Meal plan or steal plan?

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By Dave Masterson

I recently discovered that Union owes me over $1,300.  No, I didn’t overpay my tuition, nor does my work-study owe me any money.  All I did was change my meal plan to 10 meals per week.  Thank God I didn’t change it to five a week, because then there would really be trouble in River City.

You see, I had a sneaking suspicion that an extra $140 in declining balance per term doesn’t exactly make up for the fact that I am eating 270 meals less than I would if I were still eating 19 meals per week.  It turns out I was right. Very right.  If you’re curious and don’t mind reading some numbers that prove it, read on.

To figure out how much money I am losing with my new meal plan, I had to first find out how much we pay for board at Union. While Union requires all full-time students to remain on some kind of meal plan, off-campus students may elect the declining balance meal plan, which affords the student a total of $600 per year in declining balance. Students who choose this meal plan receive a $3,441 rebate on their tuition bill at the end of the year. Add that $600 to the $3,441 rebate and one may logically conclude that we pay Union $4,041 per year for food.

By subtracting the appropriate amount of declining balance from $4,041 and dividing the result by the amount of meals allotted by each plan per year, it is easy to figure out how much one actually pays for every meal at Union.

For example, if you choose 19 meals a week and $125 in declining balance per term, you have essentially signed up for 570 meals and $375 in declining balance per year.  Subtract $375 from $4,041 to arrive at $3,666 and then divide by 570 to conclude that you pay $6.43 for every meal on this plan.

Using this simple formula, I was able to figure out how much we pay per meal for each respective meal plan.  The results are astounding.  Switch to 15 meals a week and you’ll essentially be paying $7.65 a meal. Switch to 12 and you’re forking over $9.27. Hang in there, it gets worse.  For ten meals a week, $10.82 and for seven a week, $14.96.  And here’s the topper: switch to the five meals a week plan, and you’ll be shelling out a whopping $20.44 for every gourmet meal you eat in West or Upper.  I’d better be getting steak and lobster every night for that kind of money.

If those numbers don’t give you indigestion, perhaps a little perspective will.  Convert the increase in price per meal into annual losses and the numbers are even more sobering. Switch to 15 meals a week and you have lost $547.50 in the process. $1,021.20 disappears with 12, and a nice even $1,317 evaporates at ten. If you’re feeling rich with your $900 in declining on your seven meals a week plan, you shouldn’t.  You’ve just gotten gypped out of $1790.70.

Oh, and that five meals a week plan? How does a $2,101.50 loss sound to you?  In case you were wondering, that means you are only getting 48% of what your parents are paying for.  That’s like buying an entire house and then being told you can only live in the basement and the attic.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Union is trying to swindle us out of money.  I understand that it is far more cost-effective to make food in the dining halls than it is in Dutch, which is why I assume Union is hesitant to give us any substantial amount of declining balance.  I also understand that Union is not making any kind of profit of off dining services.

However, I can’t help but feel more than a little bit exploited in the face of such glaringly large amounts of lost money. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that when I pay for a product, I am entitled to use 100% of it, not 48%.

The fact that we are not allowed to completely drop our meal plan in the first place is more than slightly outrageous.  You should never be forced to pay for a product that you may not want or need, even if it makes economic sense for Union.

I’m not unreasonable.  I don’t expect Union to give me over $2,000 on my declining balance or refund me for every meal I don’t eat.  What I am asking for is a little respect and a willingness to see things from the students’ and tuition-paying parents’ perspectives. More declining balance or an appropriate tuition rebate would be nice too.  Frankly, I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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