Beginning in the 2014 to 2015 academic year, student dining will be shaken up. Currently, students living in the residence halls can choose between two meal plans: 150 meals and 100 Dining Dollars or 125 meals and 300 Dining Dollars. Next fall, students living in residence halls will receive a dining plan with unlimited meals, a University Housing decision that will benefit many students. However, Housing should think about also including a plan that offers more flexibility for those students who don’t plan on eating exclusively in dining halls.
As opposed to current plans that limit swipes, the new offerings allow students to eat unlimited meals. Under the standard current plan, a student averages between eight and nine meal swipes per week, meaning students could not eat even two meals a day. With the unlimited plan, students have the option of eating three or more meals a day without the fear of running out. Furthermore, since this change will not increase the price of housing, students have this opportunity without paying more.
The redesigned meal structure will also positively impact off-campus students. Although the details have not been finalized, new off-campus meal plans with fewer meals should be more affordable.
Although the new plan could allow students to be more flexible, the limited hours that dining halls are open might prove restrictive. Dining Dollars and Blue Bucks provide students the option of eating at locations open earlier in the morning and later at night. Thus, University Housing should consider extending dining hall operation hours to accommodate students’ busy schedules.
Although unlimited meals are beneficial to many, the plan could be more flexible by providing other options for students. With current meal plans, students can choose fewer meals in exchange for more Dining Dollars. Under the new plan, however, students can only obtain more Dining Dollars by purchasing a more expensive meal plan. With making the unlimited plan standard, Housing should provide students an option with a limited amount of swipes and more Dining Dollars to accommodate different preferences.
Besides providing options within the meal plans, the University needs to consider financially limited students who would benefit from opting out of a meal plan altogether. Forcing students to purchase a plan when other options may be less expensive is unfair.
The new meal plan structure has room to improve if more options are made available. However, unlimited meals and more affordable off-campus dining is a large step in the right direction.