Last year, AU Food Services announced two new meal plans while simultaneously reducing emphasis on their previous meal plan options in order to market their new, larger plans.
Those new plans, Platinum 19 and Platinum 15, offer more meals per semester to students, as well as a lower cost per meal swipe. However, the prices that students pay per meal, specifically when using the meal swipe exchange program, are markedly higher than what students actually receive in food services.
Meal plan breakdowns:
Platinum 19: 304 meals per semester, $50 Raven Dollars. Cost per meal swipe: $7.30
Platinum 15: 240 meals per semester, $50 Raven Dollars. Cost per meal swipe: $8.38
Raven Gold: 200 meals per semester, $50 Raven Dollars. Cost per meal swipe: $9.25
Raven Silver: 50 meals per semester, $150 Raven Dollars. Cost per meal swipe: $10.67
Raven Bronze: 75 meals per semester, $200 Raven Dollars. Cost per meal swipe: $11.87
The AU Dine on Campus website states that Gold and Silver meal plans “are not recommended for first year residents,” though they are still able to purchase those plans. However, until this year, the Raven Gold plan was the recommended meal plan for first-year students. The Raven Bronze plan, on the other hand, is only available to students who have at least a junior credit status.
“Pricing strategies for the dining plan, in general, is tiered,” said Suahil Housholder, who is the business manager for AU’s Business and Auxiliary Services. “To experience a better value, a student might elect a premium a plan.”
Meal swipes, which are generally meant for use for meals in the Marketplace, can be “traded in” using the meal swipe exchange program. The value of a meal swipe, when used outside the Marketplace, is up to $6.00 in the Haven, Raven Xpress or Create. This meal swipe exchange costs students anywhere from $1.30 to $5.87 above and beyond the food items that they are purchasing, depending on their meal plan.
“Our meal plan program is primarily designed to offer students balanced nutritious options via the Marketplace,” Housholder said. “In order to provide students additional options beyond the traditional dining hall variety, the option to exchange a meal swipe for a $6.00 value in the retail operations was introduced in the fall of 2014.”
“Prior to this, students were allowed only one exchange meal per day outside of the Marketplace.,” Housholder continued. “By introducing the $6.00 value as a convenience, it has been our understanding that students perceive that it costs more to use a swipe for the Marketplace than in the other retail operations when, in reality, their best value is to use their meal swipes in the Marketplace.”
Meal swipes used in the Marketplace also cost some students more than the visible sticker price. Breakfast, which costs $7.99 for those without meal plans, saves money only for students on the Platinum 19 plan. Lunch, which is $9.99 at the door, saves money for students on any meal plan except for the Raven Silver and Bronze options. Having any meal plan except for Raven Bronze reduces out-of-pocket cost at Dinner, which is $10.99 for those paying with cash, debit or Raven Dollars.
Anna Fiske, a freshman English and history major and student senate member, said that the numbers “baffled her.” One of her biggest concerns is that few people know how much they are actually being charged per meal.
“I was aware that students are paying more per meal swipe than they are receiving back in goods,” Fiske said. “But, I know that all of the Anderson students are in this situation and there is nothing we can immediately do about it. Incoming freshmen are required to have a meal plan and upperclassmen are highly suggested to do the same. I believe this information needs to become common knowledge so there would be more of an initiative and a drive to change this situation. If everyone was informed, perhaps things would be changed.”
Prices are unlikely to be adjusted due to student demand, however. According to Housholder, prices are evaluated each school year and adjusted for inflation and to be competitive with pricing at local all-you-can-eat restaurants. “This is consistent with pricing strategies at universities nationwide,” Housholder said.
“It is not as simple as taking a meal plan and dividing it by the number of days to determine what a student is paying for,” Housholder said. “If you research other university or college meal plans across the nation, you’ll see that a meal plan does not pay for food only. It is inclusive of the cost of operating the dining program, which includes and is not limited to, the cost of labor, maintenance, utilities, etcetera.”
“The overriding goal of our auxiliary services is to serve our students with quality and care,” said Housholder. “Our structured housing and dining program provides students with convenience and variety that allows students to focus on their studies, adjust to college life more easily, and provide social support systems. In order to provide quality dining options, we require meal plans so that monies can be reinvested into our facilities and dining program. Required meal plans are common among universities for the same reasons.”