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How cost-effective are the on-campus meals plans?

“How does one justify requiring a student to purchase a nearly $4,000-a-year meal plan if a meal on campus is less expensive without the meal plan?” (Photo special to The Voyager)

As a student of the University of West Florida for nearly seven years, I can personally vouch for the diversity inherent within the UWF student population.

Our university serves as a community hub where thousands of people from all over the world congregate in pursuit of a common goal: attaining a higher education.

While these thousands of people focus on different subjects during their academic careers and potential career paths following their academic careers, it can sometimes prove difficult to find certain commonalities among the diverse population.

One of the most prominent commonalities among people is the necessity for nourishment of our bodies. The easiest way to meet this necessity is through the act of eating food. I will not bother explaining the act of eating food; I am willing to bet you have that figured out by now.

There are several places to eat on campus. These eateries provide a variety of food options for the student requiring sustenance.

Are you in the mood for pizza? There is a Papa John’s establishment located at Presidents Hall.
Are you in the mood for a burger and fries? You should try the Argo Galley located in the Commons.
Are you in the mood for a pre-made, refrigerated sandwich? I suggest you find one of the Outtakes vending locations around campus.
Do you not have any idea what you want to eat? The Nautilus Market provides a variety of food choices in a cafeteria setting for those with an indecisive streak.

The Nautilus Market also provides patrons the opportunity to gorge one’s self on a variety of meats, breads, vegetables and fountain drinks.

While the eateries on campus provide a variety of food options, they also share one thing in common: Chartwells.

Chartwells operates all on-campus dining services at UWF including the branded establishments such as Quizno’s and Papa John’s

The central eatery on the UWF campus is the Nautilus Market, as it is the designated location where UWF students may utilize their campus meal plan.

Chartwells provides a variety of meal plans for students depending on their needs.  However, first-time college students living on campus do not get such a choice.

First-time-in-college students (FTIC) must choose either the default option providing 12 meals per week at a cost of $1,735, or the upgrade option providing 15 meals per week at a cost of $1,855. Both options include $300 worth of “Argo Bucks,” or credits usable at any eatery on the UWF campus.

Looking at the spring semester of 2013, there are 17 weeks, including spring break, during which the meal plans are usable by students.

The default option for FTIC students provides a total of 204 meals each semester at a cost of $8.50 per meal, while the upgrade option provides a total of 255 meals each semester at a cost of $7.27 per meal.

Now, these calculations do not take into account the 300 “Argo Bucks” included in both meal-plan options.

The Nautilus Market is open to students and community members without meal plans.  For those without meal plans, the Market provides breakfast for $6.50, lunch for $7.75 and dinner for $8.25.

If the average price of a meal at the Nautilus Market is $7.50, a student with one of these meal plans can purchase approximately 40 additional meals for the semester using the “Argo Bucks.”

So, including the “Argo Bucks” the default meal plan can provide around 244 meals for the semester at a price of $7.11 per meal.  The upgrade plan can provide around 295 meals for the semester at a price of $6.29 per meal.

Looking at the prices per meal, one can see that the default option, at $7.11 per meal, is obviously less valuable than the upgrade option.

However, it is surprising how lacking the default option is in value. Specifically, the non-meal plan value of the breakfast at the Nautilus Market is about 60 cents cheaper than the meal plan value.

College can be a very expensive undertaking for many people. As President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union speech on Feb. 12, colleges must do their part to ensure costs are lower for those seeking higher education.

How does one justify requiring a student to purchase a nearly $4,000-a-year meal plan if a meal on campus is less expensive without the meal plan?

Just some food for thought…

John Strickland
Opinions Editor

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