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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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    University Students Not Alone in Meal Plan Frustration

    As students scramble to finish last minute essays and guzzle down coffee and energy drinks to fight off sleep, their meal plan cards could soon be the ones running on empty.

    Stony Brook University students often complain the campus food is not worth the high prices. But, it may bring comfort to some to know they are not alone.

    Meal plans tend to vary by school. Generally, campus meal plans are either set up as a debit card for meal points — such as Stony Brook’s — or on a fixed amount of meals students can purchase per week such as SUNY New Paltz.

    “Both the size and the diversity of Stony Brook influence the needs that the university has for its meal plan,” Angela Agnello said, director of marketing and communications for Stony Brook’s campus dining. “For example, the large variety of cultural food preferences combined with the fact that there are many students with complex class and work schedules at Stony Brook requires the flexibility of a full declining balance meal plan.”

    At the University of Marylan the student dining plan works on a fixed amount of meals per week students can eat. According to Alison D’Ottavio, a freshman at the university, the school has “meal deals” which equal one meal, and if you want something different from the meal deal and it goes over the price then you start using “flex dollars.”

    “I like how my meal plan works. They have a lot of options for everyone,” D’Ottavio said.

    The University of Maryland is self-operated — meaning the school does not employ a dining contractor such as Chartwells, which in the dining provider for Stony Brook, according to Colleen Wright-Riva, the director of dining services at the school. At Stony Brook, Chartwells has served as the dinning provider since 1998.

    According to the Michigan State University website, the school offers a plan that has unlimited access to all of the dining facilities with no limit on how many visits.

    However, this option does come with a price — starting at $2,063 per semester.

    Campus dining has looked into the all you can eat plan option, or “board plan,” according to Agnello.

    “The Bid Selection Committee over the last two semesters has visited other colleges and universities that offer such a plan,” she said.

    The committee was not pleased with the board plan for several reasons.

    “In order to have an all-you-care-to-eat dining facility you need dining locations that offer a very large number of seats for students to dine,” said Agnello. “The facilities at Stony Brook University would have difficulty accommodating everyone who wanted to sit and eat their meal at the same time.”

    The board plan would not allow students to bring back leftovers.

    “You cannot take food out of the dining location which eliminates the grab-and-go convenience that Stony Brook students enjoy with the current meal plan,” said Agnello “Most Stony Brook students want the grab-and-go convenience so that they can take food back to their room, a lounge or study area.”

    The university is not planning on switching anytime soon, but students are suggesting changes. At an executive board meeting at Dreiser College in Tabler Quad, members of the board agreed on a number of things that could be changed about the meal plans at Stony Brook, like better food at the Tabler Arts Center, less expensive food and meal points rolling over to next semester. Sejad Nikezic, a junior said, “I would like to see more money go straight to the meal plan.”

    According to Nancy Richardson, the ID and meal plan office manager at New Paltz, the campus policy permits meal points to roll over from fall to spring semesters, but must be used by the end of the spring semester.

    At Stony Brook, commuter meal points do the same, but residential ones don’t. “In order for meal plans to be tax-exempt they must have a definitive start date and an end date,” said Agnello. “If students were to roll over their meal points until May, dining services would not be able to accommodate the amount of students rushing to spend their points at the last minute at the end of the spring semester.”

    While students may think that Stony Brook is the only school that seems to serve expensive food, students from other colleges and universities such as Quinnipiac, C.W. Post, Fredonia and Geneseo agreed that campus food is overpriced.

    Hofstra, which shares similarities in location and commuter percentage, has a very similar meal plan to Stony Brook’s.

    “It’s terribly expensive here,” said Hofstra student Nicholas Kolasinski. “I’m sure all campuses are, though. I haven’t run out yet, but I’m on the verge. The school recommends how much should be spent daily to make it through the semester, but it’s really hard to do so.”

    Wright-Riva said, “In general, students would prefer that things cost less, but once they learn of how and why we do what we do, they seem to acknowledge the costs of doing business on a college campus.”

    Angello tackles these comments by posing the question, “Are students getting a good value for their money? The cost of food could be lower, but other conveniences and flexibility may be lost in the process.”

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