I have had a meal plan on campus for the entirety of my going-on-three years at the University of Indianapolis. When I arrived at college my freshman year, I was excited to have a meal plan. I mean—who does not like the convenience of a snack or a meal being one meal swipe away? Last year, I had the 14-meal plan and received 224 swipes per semester to budget as I pleased; Meaning that, if I planned my swipes just right, I would have not wasted money by not using all the swipes I was billed for. Now, picture it: It is the end of last semester. I had finally mastered the art of getting my swipes to last just enough to get me through finals week. I was elated that I, somehow, perfectly divided my swipes so that not a single cent was wasted. I was eager to execute my plan again the coming semester… That is, until I checked my inbox four months later.
Meal plans were revised for the 2023-2024 school year, as students were informed in an email from the Office of Student Affairs on Aug. 3. For starters, the 19 meal plan was replaced with an unlimited meal plan, meaning that students with this plan get unlimited swipes in the dining hall. I agree with this change—if you are shelling out nearly $3,600 a semester to eat on campus, then you should not be limited in your swipes. However, a new three swipe limit per day at retail locations (think the Perks, Streets Grill, Fiesta Grill and Hounds Express) is not so great, especially if you are a student like me who is already limited to six swipes a day. The policy does take a little meaning away from the term “unlimited.”
However, I am not so sure about the addition of “Flex Dollars.” According to a recent The Reflector article titled “Dining hall renovations and meal plan updates for new school year,” the purpose of Flex Dollars is to increase spending options for students. This means that, let’s say, if one wants to spend four meal swipes to get coffee at The Perk III, Flex Dollars can be used to cover that last swipe that goes over the three swipe limit. Or, if students simply do not want to spend an extra swipe for their meal due to an upcharge or adding another item, Flex Dollars can cover whatever that difference is. Most institutions I considered when applying for college, such as North Carolina State University (I am an N.C. native) or Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, have something akin to Flex Dollars as part of their meal plan systems. However, it is important to note that a lot of these institutions have multiple restaurant chains and/or options available for students. IUPUI offers both a Panda Express and a Pizza Hut location among others. NC State allows students to spend their respective versions of Flex Dollars at an on-campus Chick-Fil-A. At UIndy, the only outside vendors we host are a Sushi Boss in the Health Pavilion and two coffee shops with partnerships with Starbucks available to students. While something is better than nothing, if the purpose of Flex Dollars is to increase students’ spending power, why not continue the precedent other universities have set with having chain locations available to students? But I digress.
The addition of Flex Dollars also raises another concern: How will pricing be handled by the university? According to a Reflector article published last year about the previous meal plan system, price increases were posted around campus last semester for various items in multiple locations, such as the Perk III and Hounds Express. Not to mention that adding guacamole or queso to your burrito at Fiesta Grill still costs students an extra $2. While the addition of Flex Dollars makes sense overall, I feel as though it is a band aid to students’ concerns about not getting their money’s worth out of their swipes. According to Dine at UIndy, the 14-meal plan still gives students 224 swipes per semester for a price of $2,990 per semester. With those numbers in mind, this means that each swipe is worth around $13.35 ($2,990 divided by 224 total swipes). The price of our swipes has increased; however, the worth of each swipe has not. This is my main complaint. In the Midwest where food prices are still increasing due to inflation, according to the Consumer Price Index, I feel as though the university should have increased our purchasing power per swipe rather than implementing a new system that, quite frankly, is sometimes confusing (especially the whole allotted swipes for each week system and the one-week swipe rollover period, per the Aug. 3 email. I am still trying to figure that out). In the end, the new meal plan system is not all that bad. Sure, it is a bit confusing to implement after multiple years of its predecessor, but ultimately some students’ concerns were addressed through these new implementations. I am glad that students were heard. Nonetheless, that does not mean there is not still room for improvement, but we have to start somewhere.