University offers opt-up dining plan to upperclassmen

Media Credit: Yonah Bromberg-Gaber | Graphics Editor

Upperclassmen can now choose dining plans that are normally assigned to younger students.

All freshmen must use the dining plan designated for first-year students — the most expensive — but now sophomores, juniors and seniors can choose any level’s dining plan. The switch to an “opt-up” system will allow students to use financial aid dollars that would have otherwise gone unspent.

University spokesman Brett Zongker said officials finalized the dining plan options this fall and that they were created in response to students’ feedback on dining options.

He added that students will not receive more or less overall financial aid because of the program.

“The election of opt-up or not will not impact financial aid, as cost of attendance is based on an estimated expectation for food costs and is not specific to the election made by an individual student,” Zongker said.

Dining plan minimums are based on the average amount of dining cash needed for each academic year, which decreases annually to reflect the needs of average upperclassmen, according to the dining plan website. First-year students have a minimum of $3,900 in dining cash, second-year students have $2,500, third-year students have $2,000 and fourth-year students who live on campus have $1,000.

The opt-up program is one of a variety of dining changes this academic year, including the closing of J Street and the start of an open dining system, which allows students to use dining cash in any location that accepts GWorld.

Student Association President Erika Feinman said the option to use another dining plan is a way to appease concerned parents who can now be sure that students are using specific amounts of money just for food, which was not clear under the former GWorld system. Students previously had a certain amount of funds that could be spent on any items, not just food, at partnering stores.

“We see this as a great opportunity for parents to tell their students, ‘You can opt up,'” Feinman said. “The parent will cover it, and in that way they don’t have to be concerned that their child will be spending that money elsewhere because it just goes to food.

SA Executive Vice President Thomas Falcigno said the new dining plan allows students to more effectively spend all of their possible financial aid money.

SA leaders have focused on campus affordability this year, and a new student-run food pantry will open next month, offering food to students who struggle to pay for dining.

Students can go to the GWorld office to apply to opt up until Sept. 16, Falcigno said. He added that seniors who live off campus are eligible for the dining plans, too.

Jim Jump, the former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said additional dining costs, like those that often fall outside of upperclassmen plans, are burdensome for students receiving financial aid because they don’t have the out-of-pocket income to cover them.

“I think a lot of colleges, and it sounds like GW is among them, are starting to recognize the hidden added burdens on high-need students and trying to find ways to ameliorate those burdens,” Jump said.

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