“Can you swipe me?”: The underlying problem with dining plans

Illustration by Allison Verjinski
Illustration by Allison Verjinski

Freshman year of college is full of monumental events and firsts — moving into the dorms, getting a roommate and, let’s not forget, the freshman fifteen, which is fueled by the dining plan.

The meal plans are required for all freshmen who live on campus and include both swipes and dining dollars. The default for incoming students is a 200 swipes and 300 dining dollar plan. The swipes are used at swipe exchange locations such as Market 810 and Bleecker St. The dining dollars can be used at participating retail locations like Chili’s.

The problem with the dining plans is not that they are mandatory, but that the options are excessive and expensive.

The default dining plan I mentioned earlier, which according to VCU dining services, is also the most popular plan, costs $2,032 per semester. It’s a high cost for a meal plan that does not transfer onto the next semester. It may not seem like a big deal, but for students who are first generation or from low income families, it adds up. It could end up being the reason they don’t live on campus, which isolates them from the first-year experience.

The options aren’t great either. VCU has 23 campus dining locations which can get repetitive really fast when you take into consideration the limited hours in which these places accept swipes. For example, Canes only accepts swipes after 5 p.m and Chick-Fil-A only accepts swipes on Saturdays.

I’m not arguing that we should get rid of the dining plan for first-year students, as I do believe it is a viable option for students. However, if VCU is going to require first-year students to buy a large amount of swipes that must be used in the duration of one semester, they either need to provide us with more dining locations, or they need to allow more flexibility when it comes to how many swipes you are required to buy along with your housing.

Other schools such as Virginia Tech, which was ranked No. 2 by Niche in 2018 for “Best Campus Food,” have adopted a different type of dining plan. Although students living on campus are still required to buy a dining plan, it is affordable and practical. The major flex plan offered by Tech, which costs $1,739 a semester, essentially works as a debit card, allowing students to eat whatever they want at all dining locations. Students with the plan receive meals at a 50 to 67 percent discount at dining centers, for example a meal that retails at $11.95 at the dining center will cost a student with a major flex meal plan only $3.95. Not only does this allow for flexibility and options, but the Tech meal plans also carry over from the fall semester to spring.

I’m not arguing VCU should have the same dining plan as Tech, but I would encourage VCU to reevaluate its current meal plans to better fit VCU students.

Amna Kayani, Contributing Writer


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