Unused swipes cost students more than $1 million annually

Sam Isaacs
Staff Writer

With the semester coming to a close, classes are not the only thing ending. The opportunity to use dining blocks, also known as swipes, at VCU also ends at the conclusion of each semester.

Roughly 88,000 swipes go unused each semester at VCU, according to Tamara Highsmith, manager of VCU Dining Services. VCU doesn’t allow students to roll unused swipes into the next semester, which means at least $1 million in annual losses for students with meal plans.

VCU offers ten different dining packages, ranging in cost from $202 to $1,909. These packages all include swipes and some amount of dining dollars, which can be used just like regular, tax-free money at VCU dining locations. Swipes can be redeemed for entry at Shafer Court Dining Center or for a meal at a number of different locations, usually during a certain time of the day.

Plans with more swipes are more expensive but cost less per swipe. The 300 block plan is the most expensive, but the most cost-efficient at $6.03 per swipe. Students who get smaller plans, in the 150-200 range can expect to pay around $7.18 per swipe. The smallest, a mere five swipes, costs about $8.40 per swipe.

If every student purchased the 300-block meal plan, the most cost-efficient option, the total cost of unused swipes per semester is more than $530,000 — $6.03 for each of 88,000 swipes.

VCU’s dining plan offers a variety of options based on the desired number of swipes, which can be used multiple times per day. Other state schools, like James Madison University, offer plans that allow students to pay for a certain number of meals per day. Virginia Tech, whose campus food was ranked second in the nation in “The Princeton Review,” allows swipes to roll over, but only from the fall to spring semesters.

Highsmith said that VCU has higher meal plan use than many other schools; just over 90 percent of purchased swipes are used by students.

“This is unique to VCU. The national average for meal consumption is 63 percent which means that at other schools, only 63 percent of a student’s dining plan is actually used,” Highsmith said.

Though 90 percent is better than the average, with an estimated 888,000 total swipes purchased, the total number of unused swipes is still 88,000.

Highsmith added that VCU takes unused swipes into consideration when planning the Shafer menu.

“Food purchases are made on a weekly basis, utilizing a pre-planned menu backed up with a substantial amount of historical forecasting,” she said. “Detailed records are kept on each item made and how much is consumed, which is applied to the purchase assessment. Additionally, factors such as the weather, class schedules, exam schedules and even the day of the week the menu item is served.”

Brian Kay, a junior urban planning major, said that he felt VCU gave helpful information on the dining plans, but he still ended up with unused swipes.

“I had a meal plan freshman year because everyone in the dorms has to have one,” Kay said. “I got the 100-swipe plan because I felt like I wouldn’t use all of the swipes in the larger plan. I still ended up with about 30 extra swipes, but I did use all my dining dollars. I do think that VCU did a good job of explaining the meal plan system as a freshman.”

Kay also said that despite having a meal plan and unused swipes, he still ate out at places like Qdoba and Five Guys Burgers and Fries.

Sarah Meier, a junior education major, purchased the 50 swipe plan for this semester and has used almost all of them.

“I have four (swipes) left. Last semester I got 70 swipes and had about 30 left in the last month of classes,” she said.

Both Kay and Meier agreed that VCU should have some sort of rollover system similar to what Virginia Tech offers.

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