By Erin bloodgood
Elm Staff Writer
Meal plans are a part of the college experience. They give you access to a smorgasbord of dining options (if you go to a school with a smorgasbord of dining options). Unfortunately, the Washington College student body has only four options to choose from: the dining hall, Martha’s Kitchen, Create, and Java George (and the Sophie Kerr Café which is the same thing as Java George, just located in the library). The dining hall is a great option when you have time to sit down and enjoy your meal, and Martha’s and Create serve as quick options to satisfy you during a busy day or as a deliciously greasy late night snack. Both can serve as a meal depending on what your definition of a meal is. Regardless, these are our main food options, with Java George serving as a place you can grab coffee and a bagel or other snacks. That being said, I’ve noticed a few things about meal plans and the dining options at WC.
WC does have a nice array of meal plan options and a decent variety of things to eat at the dining hall. However, I’ve noticed that my “advantage” meal plan does not seem too advantageous. It’s a modest meal plan with two meals a day (14 per week), eight guest passes, $100 in dining dollars, and “premium” equivalency of up to $6 any time of day. This all sounds great until you think about it in terms of numbers. Meal plans are not cheap, and they don’t appear to be getting cheaper. According to the Washington College website, the price to get into the dining hall for lunch and dinner is $9.35 and $11.40, respectively. If I went to lunch and dinner every day for 15 weeks the total cost would be $2,178.75 for one semester, or $4,357.50 for two semesters. If I add in $200 for dining dollars and the estimated cost of 16 guest passes ($11.40 for 16 guest passes equals $182.40) that would come out to $4,739.90 compared to the $5,366 Advantage 14-meal plan. This leaves $626.10 unaccounted for, meaning that if I were to pay out of pocket for lunch, dinner, guest swipes, and dining dollars, I would save $626.10.
The next problem that I have is the word “equivalency” in my meal plan description. Equivalent means “being equal in value,” and $6 is not equivalent in value to an $11.40 dinner or a $9.35 lunch or even the cost of breakfast, which is still higher at $6.40. The worst part is that if your meal plan has “traditional equivalency” your “equivalency” rate is only up to $5. I fully understand that up in the dining hall there is a buffet and you can eat as much or as little as you’d like for one flat price, but this wouldn’t be a problem if the prices at Martha’s Kitchen and Create were lower. The average price of an item on Martha’s Kitchen and Create’s menu is $5.97 and $5.88, respectively. This is on average. Most of the prices range from $3 to $6 or more. Add the price of a small drink and the price of fries to your meal and you’ve gone over $5 to $6. Anything over your $5 or $6 budget can be paid for with dining dollars or cash. $100 in dining dollars seems like a lot, but it really isn’t when you consider how much of your dining dollars are used to cover the overage of your meal at Martha’s or Create. Not to mention when you use your dining dollars to grab coffee at Java George, you’re further depleting your overage funds.
So far I’m just not seeing the advantage of my “advantage” meal plan. Why is the “equivalency” included in our meal plans so low compared to the price of admission to the dining hall and the prices of the alternate dining location menus? To answer my questions I contacted Zena Maggitti, director of Dining Services, who worked with Mark Hampton, vice president of finance and administration, and Peggy Fulton, budget director in the Business Office, to answer my questions.
In response to the “equivalency connundrum,” Hampton said, “Based on feedback and convenience, a meal equivalency option was added to all plans. The amount of the equivalency is built into the total cost of the meal plan. Equivalency was set up to allow students to purchase items as an occasional alternative to regular meals, and was never intended to cover the whole cost of a full meal in retail.”
In regards to flex dollars, Hampton explained that they were built into meal plans in order to purchase items from Java George or the Sophie Kerr cafe, in addition to covering costs that run over meal-equivalency. He said, “Flex dollars are built into the cost of the meal plans. If we were to increase the number of flex dollars available to students, we would also need to increase the cost of meal plans commensurately.”
I didn’t realize that so much went into calculating the cost of our meal plan. I don’t know if anything about our meal plans will change, but I’m guessing they won’t. Perhaps there will be an increase in the price of meal plans, but it is uncertain whether or not we will be getting anything within our meal plans increased.