Are UIndy meal plans worth the money?

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One of the early pieces of advice I received upon arriving at the University of Indianapolis was to use all of my meal swipes every semester and fill up each swipe to its $7.50 limit as soon as possible. This limit was an increase set in 2016 according to the Reflector after students and their families complained about the previous swipe limit. When my roommate’s brother told me that advice, I nodded and agreed. I thought that with the 14 meal plan, only having two swipes allotted for each day of the week would be a huge restriction. Now, however, as I am getting acclimated to living on campus, I have realized that I will probably never get through all of my swipes for the semester, which ultimately means that I will lose money by being on a meal plan. 

This is a common problem for students; we want to use all of the swipes in our meal plans because we pay for them, regardless of whether or not we use them all. Of course, this varies from student to student, but for me, using all of my swipes has been a huge struggle. I have had to make a conscious effort to get my money’s worth. 

As a freshman living on campus, I am required to choose either the 14 or 19 meal plan, and I chose the former.  With 16 weeks in a semester and 14 swipes per week, I get 224 swipes in total with my 14 meal plan. According to UIndy Dining, the 14 meal plan costs $2,848 a semester, which means that each swipe is worth approximately $12.71 ($2,848 divided by 224 total swipes). The fact that each swipe costs $5.21 more than what we get to use it for was surprising to me, and upsetting. The calculations for the 10 and 19 meal plans are close to the same numbers. The 10 meal plan gives students a total of 160 swipers per semester and costs students $2,038 per semester, which makes each swipe worth $12.74. The 19 meal plan gives students 304 swipes in a semester and costs $3,390 per semester, making each swipe worth $11.15. The 5 meal plan for commuter and apartment students gives students 80 swipes per semester and costs $1,016, which adds up to $12.70 per swipe. Looking past the inconsistency in the value of swipes within different meal plans, everyone is paying more than the $7.50 that we can spend for each one. 

Also, prices at the Hounds Express and the Perks have recently gone up, which means that students can purchase less food with each swipe. Considering that our swipes are worth from $3.65 to $5.24 more than $7.50, it is frustrating that now we also cannot get as much food for what we are paying. For example, the chicken caesar wrap that used to be $5.25 only a couple of weeks ago is now $8.25, which costs the equivalent of two swipes ($15) for something that is only one meal. This is disappointing because I have to use two swipes for the same amount of food that used to take less than one swipe, but the value of one meal swipe has not gone up in tandem with these price increases. These price increases are not limited to the Hounds Express, as signs informing students that certain prices have changed have been posted at the Perk III. 

Additionally, students like me, who find it difficult to use the number of swipes given for each day, lose both the money that is not included in the price of each individual swipe but also the money from the swipes not used before the semester ends. Granted, this situation is not the only issue with UIndy’s meal plans, but paying for so much more food than I am getting is problematic.

On the other hand, students who have used too many swipes will either have to limit the number they use for the remainder of the semester or pay out of pocket for their on-campus meals. These students also are overpaying for each swipe, plus they will either have to pay more or eat less.Unfortunately, students, especially those living on their own or without the means to buy food for themselves, rarely have a choice other than to pay for one of the meal plans at UIndy, if they want to eat. While the argument can be made that the UIndy dining staff must be paid, the meal plans are not worth the money students pay for them every semester. We are paying more than each swipe is worth, and with prices going up across campus and across Indiana, according to the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee, we are now forced to budget more closely than ever on a plan that is supposed to provide for us.

Graphic by Makenna Maschino

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