January, the University of Michigan, Flint campus will begin to implement a new program, which offers meal-plan scholarships for up to 10 students, on or off of campus. Provided by Sodexo, the dining company that services that campus, the scholarships consist of either five $1,400 scholarships or up to 10 meal-plan scholarships of $700. By highlighting specific costs associated with attending college, Flint is addressing costs that disproportionately affect lower-income students. The University should follow suit.
Implementing meal-specific scholarships acknowledges the varied costs students face while in college. These scholarships are likely to target students from lower-income backgrounds — those who are more likely to be impacted by daily costs. By allowing students to stay on campus for meals during the day, these scholarships will also save students time, while ensuring access to healthier food options. For students who struggle to pay for food on top of tuition, books and other academic costs, unhealthy meals may be the only affordable option. But with the food-based scholarships in place, students can gain access to nearby, healthy food options.
Furthermore, there are health benefits of eating in a dining hall, aside from the healthier food. Results of a study conducted at Kansas State University revealed a correlation between eating in a collegiate dining hall among peers and higher GPAs as well as greater-perceived social support. Through this new program, Flint is ensuring that students — regardless of financial need — may be able to be a part of this university community.
Though the criteria for the new scholarship will not be entirely need-based, the proposed scholarships offer options to those struggling to make ends meet. For instance, the scholarships could help those middle-class students whose parents’ income leaves them without full financial aid support.
Currently, the University here in Ann Arbor has more than 200 financial-aid scholarships, but none are category-specific. Following Flint’s lead, the University should implement these tailored scholarships. Tuition isn’t the only factor that makes college expensive; the cost of living — including food — can remain a barrier to those with fewer financial resources. One University of Michigan campus is on the edge of innovation through its meal plan scholarship program — hopefully, others will take note.