UK dining is squeezing out students with unnecessary regulations and pricing



How low must your moral standards be to capitalize on the monopoly that is student dining?

Pretty low considering the average U.S. college student already leaves college with about $29,400 of debt, according to a 2013 study by the Institute for College Access and Success. But what difference is a couple thousand dollars stacked on top of that going to make?

College dining halls are notorious for offering basic, overpriced food to unsuspecting college students. Why else would Wal-Mart capitalize on the 100-pack of Ramen Noodles in the “Back to School Deals” section? Certainly not because we prefer the taste of dehydrated “noodles” to Panda Express.

With limited options for finding well-priced food, students rely on the dining services provided on campus to supply them with easy access to food at reasonable costs.

Since UK Dining Services has turned the reins over to Aramark Educational Services, Inc., costs for the minimum meal plan required for all students living in the dorms are supposed to have decreased, according to a UKNow article written by UK spokesman Jay Blanton. However, new rules now dictate how often a student can eat, who can use purchased meals and what the unit price per each meal is.

Last semester, the dining services on campus had few limitations to the cardholder other than what time they could use meal swipes at the retail food chains on campus.

Students are no longer allowed to swipe more than once (for Wildcat Deals at retail dining options and Ovid’s) between the hours of 7 and 10:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., and 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. without purchasing the unlimited plan. If we wish to eat more than once during one of the parameters we must use our flex or plus.

In addition, students can only swipe themselves and must use flex or plus to treat someone else to a meal. During my freshman year I would swipe for my brother and myself, which seemed reasonable for the price we paid; now more meals will go to waste because the cardholder can’t make use of them all.

According to our calculations based on current data from the UK Dining Services website, the unit price per meal of the minimum plan (about 114 meals a semester or 7 meals a week for about 16 weeks without flex) is $9.89. The unit price per meal of the blue plan (about 227 meals a semester or 14 meals a week for about 16 weeks, without flex) is $6.59.

Each meal swipe will get you the exact same meal, but each minimum plan holder pays $9.89 for that swipe while the blue plan holder pays $6.59. That is a 50 percent mark up.

Not only is a large profit being made off of the plan holders, who will more than likely not use all the meals they are allotted, but also on the resident students who are forced to pay nearly double the value for the same meal.

Say a student has waited all day to eat and is in need of a larger portion than one meal provides, or maybe wants to eat and take food back to their dorm to do homework. He or she would be out of luck because the new rules require him or her to wait until the next meal parameter to use a swipe.

What about the nearly 6-hour-long parameter from 10:30 a.m.-4 p.m.? The traffic at this time includes both the breakfast and lunch rush, meaning the students who usually got both meals during this time frame will either have to get breakfast earlier, or wait until later to get lunch—hours later.

According to the Dining Services FAQ page, the reason for limiting the holder’s use of their purchased meals is “to keep discounts as high as possible.” The quality of food and service we are provided on the meal plan is not worth the discounts the services claim to offer for their various meal plans on the UKNow website.

“Prices for UK’s six current student meal plans will be reduced, with the most expensive plan falling in price by 26 percent or about $740 per semester,” according to the website. If anything, we are now paying for more rules and less freedom over the same food.

We live in a capitalistic country, but at what cost can we defend the capitalistic nature of business when it is bankrupting more and more students every year? UK Dining needs to reconsider the level to which they capitulate to their students, otherwise higher education will begin to devolve back to a strictly privileged expense of the upper classes.

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