College Media Mad Money #1: How Much of Your Students’ Meal Plans Are Wasted? (@DailyTarHeel)

A full quarter.  One-fourth.  25 percent.  As The Daily Tar Heel recently revealed in a wonderful, astounding report, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill “25 percent of all meals bought through campus dining plans are wasted each semester.”

In the write-up by Katie Quine, the high percentage prompts a student-admin. blame game: Students claim they are forced into plans that basically require them to pay for excess food, while the dining director argues (as paraphrased by Quine) that the “large percentage of unused meals can be attributed to students buying meal plans that don’t match their lifestyles.”

Depending on the perspective, the “waste money” is not simply going to waste– the funds are used to keep dining services operating.  In addition, the wastefulness also apparently keeps meal prices down.  “If students were to eat every meal they purchased, meal plan prices would be higher, [the dining director] said. ‘For a plan that includes 14 meals per week, we charge $6.67 (per meal),” he said. “You would never see an all-you-can-eat meal for $6.67 anywhere else.'”  It’s an interesting assertion, but does that really split the difference with how much students are spending on what ends up being uneaten food?

The bottom line: It’s time for a fresh look at campus food costs.

Related Questions

What are the meal plan options for students at your school?  How do they feel about the options?  What are their suggestions for alternatives?  What sort of say do students have in meal plan and dining options?  How much money are they paying for meals each semester or academic year, individually and in total?  Who controls the meal costs and plan options at the school?  How are those decisions made?  How much have on-campus dining expenses for students increased in recent years?  How does it compare to general inflation and the rate of increase for your school’s tuition, room & board, and textbook expenses?  How much of the meal plans are wasted?  How much money does this waste add up to for the school?  What is done with the extra funds?  Who makes the decision on how to allot the “waste funds”?  Do students have any input?  And in deference to the fantastic Daily Tar Heel infographic below, how does your school’s meal plan waste compare to the waste at other area schools or schools in your athletics conference or schools of similar size nationwide?

Multimedia Option

Run a photo slideshow of select food and drinks available at breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the campus dining halls, accompanied by the prices students technically pay for them via their meal plan and what they cost at a local supermarket or wholesaler.

Offbeat Option

Engage a small group of students to avoid the dining hall or other on-campus food options for a few weeks, instead eating only off-campus or items purchased themselves and stored in their room (or grabbed from friends).  Have them record every expense, a list of the food and drinks consumed, and a running set of responses to the experience, including possibly their reactions to how accessible various food and drinks were, what meals they were most and least motivated to attempt without the dining halls, and the relative health comparisons of what they chowed down on their own.

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