Meal plans are required for all freshmen and sophomores on campus. That’s around 8,000 students living in 24 residence halls. These students have the option of choosing between four plans, ranging from $1,425 to more than $2,000 per semester for food. It is because of this requirement that meal plan policies are exploitative and insensitive to the needs of students.
One element to this is the excessive prices charged in campus stores. Tuesday morning, I went to Acme on Main Street and then to Munchies in Prentice to do a little price comparison. What I found was shocking. A gallon of skim milk at Acme costs $2.69. Just a quarter-gallon at Prentice costs almost as much, at $2.29. A box of Cheerios at Acme is $3.49. That same box at Prentice costs two dollars more. Pop Tarts are $1.70 more expensive on campus. Of all the 30 products I reviewed, only five had prices that were equal or lower than Acme prices. The worst part is that students are forced into buying overpriced food because Dining Services requires them to purchase these plans. And that’s simply not fair.
Another exploitative element is Kent State’s end-of-year policy. This is something I experienced my freshman year. That year, I bought the basic meal plan, which averaged out to about $70/week each semester. Because I sometimes went home over weekends, I had some extra money by the end of fall term. This money transferred to the spring, so I had an even larger amount to spend. By May, I was left with more than $400 in my account. University policy demanded that I either spend the money or relinquish the remaining balance to Kent State.
This policy is absurd. Eighty percent of Kent State students receive financial assistance through scholarships, loans, grants, etc. We are broke, especially in the current economic climate. Punishing cash-strapped students for not spending their meal plan money is just adding insult to injury. I also think it’s immoral for the university to withhold our money at the end of the year. It’s our property and our right to it.
I acknowledge students need to be responsible in choosing a meal plan that won’t put them in this bad situation. However, this decision is often difficult to make as a freshman with limited wisdom. University representatives need to do a much better job informing students about each meal plan choice so that a situation like I was in doesn’t happen.
The university’s rationale is this: Higher prices on food, and the end-of-year policy, pay for a host of things: maintenance of buildings, costs of buying and delivering food to campus locations and the salaries of the student workers in the various dining locations. However, the disparity between prices on and off campus is just so outrageous that this logic is indefensible. Moreover, I suspect the university budgets to receive a certain amount of unspent money back from student accounts in May. I don’t want to assert students are being duped, but I do wonder if the profit motive is the bottom line, rather than the students’ well being.
And this is the main problem. The current policies are woefully inconsiderate of student’s pocketbooks. We need to come first. And we want a more just meal plan system.
Christopher Hook is a junior international relations and French major and a
columnist for the Daily Kent Stater.
Contact him at [email protected]