Meal plans costly, lack variety

Opinions Columnist | English Freshman

Being forced to buy a meal plan every semester is an unfair requirement that costs on-campus students significantly more than what they would spend on groceries while providing little-to-no variety.

The convenience of on-campus food is nothing to scoff at, but as helpful as close-proximity eateries can be, for many students the cost may be too much.

All students living in on-campus housing are forced to purchase a meal plan every semester whether or not they want one. The smallest plan, which provides 150 prepaid meal trades and $125 dining dollars for one semester, is $1,069. Buying two of those—one per semester—costs a student $2,138 over the course of a school year. The larger plans of 200 and 250 meals per semester cost $1,160 and $1,244 respectively.

It is far less expensive to buy groceries every month and cook than to purchase semester meal plans. According to January 2014 statistics from the USDA, the average cost for females aged 19-50 to buy groceries on a low-cost plan is $826 for four months, the approximate length of a semester. The cost for males in the same age group at low-cost is $951.50 for four months. This is an overall average of $888.75 per semester for groceries, versus the $1,069 semester cost of the smallest plan.

Students still often buy groceries and meals from outside sources to supplement their meal plans, further driving up their semester food costs. Furthermore, during holidays like winter and summer break, students cannot access their meal plans and must again rely on outside sources for food. Meal plans do not offer much in the way of variety, either, leaving many students craving outside foods. For those with specific dietary restrictions, meal plans offer even less satisfaction.

The money and hassle students could save by buying groceries could be put toward a number of things—tuition, textbooks, rent or any other of the numerous student expenses. Not only is buying groceries more affordable than meal plans, it also provides students with more control over their diets.

It is worth noting that not all students use their entire meal plan. Despite that, there is no reimbursement for unused meal trades. At the end of the school year, any unclaimed meals simply disappear. Students are essentially forced to pay for meals they will never eat. This is just more money wasted that could be put to better use.

If students are not using all of their meal trades by the end of the year, they should get that money back. Otherwise, that money disappears into oblivion, never to be seen again. If reimbursement is not a possibility, then perhaps smaller meal plans should be available. A 75- or 100-meal plan would be a perfect size for students who enjoy cooking their own meals but might need the convenience of a dining hall every so often. Students already have enough bills to foot without oversized meal plans adding to the burden.

In talking to other students about this issue, I have found that many feel the same way—meal plan prices and sizes either need to be reduced, or else should be optional for all students regardless of living situation. Personally, I would like to see both happen.

Being able to live on campus and cook my own food in accordance with my own dietary style, while still having the option of an inexpensive meal plan as a backup would be ideal. Texas State officials need to seriously reconsider the way meal plans currently work. Students deserve more consideration than they are currently given when it comes to compulsory meal plans.