An opt-in meal plan system would give students financial flexibility

Students have long griped about the affordability of eating on GW’s campus.

The meal plan was revamped last academic year in the hopes of combatting the rampant cases of food insecurity students face at the University. A new meal plan that increased the amount of dining dollars a student receives based on whether they have access to a kitchen was implemented this academic year – but the change is not enough to address food insecurity on campus.

Under the new plan, the amount of money allocated to students was boosted to $1,400 for students with a kitchen in their residence hall room or $2,300 for those without. The amount can be spent at the various vendors around campus. While the plans differ in amount, all students who live on campus are required to participate.

However, students said at an event earlier this month that food insecurity is still a problem on campus even after administrators made changes to increase funding for students. Instead of increasing the amount given to students, we should instead be looking at the inherent flaws of the meal plan and offering students an option to opt-out.

If a student were given the opportunity to opt out of the meal plan, they would be able to shop at less expensive grocery stores, like nearby Trader Joe’s, and prepare their own meals for a potentially lower cost per year than the meal plan. Trader Joe’s does not accept GWorld as a form of payment, and there are many other affordable options that don’t either.

With the 8 to 10 percent cut that the University takes from each sale that is covered by GWorld, some small businesses are faced with a question of whether to hike prices to cover the fee or not accept the payment and risk losing student business. With this in mind, some local businesses that accept the payment are more expensive than some off-campus alternatives, and without being tethered to a meal plan, students can explore these options.

Beyond the financial impact on students, allowing students to opt out of the meal plan all together would give students a life lesson in budgeting they wouldn’t otherwise receive. Sure, students are forced to budget a certain amount each month based on what their meal plan allots, but teaching students to juggle all of their expenses – like entertainment, textbooks and other needs – is more beneficial in the real world.

Some may argue that the meal plan is essential for students who rely on federal loans or scholarships to cover the cost of food. In this case, eliminating the meal plan would be detrimental as they would not have cash on hand to pay for food, but the University should offer an opportunity for students to avoid the meal plan, not completely drop the program.

In taking this new direction, the University would expand the dining options available to the student body and lower costs at an already expensive college. The University would be combating the very prevalent issue of food insecurity on campus while additionally improving upon the marketability of its meal plan to future GW students.

Anthony Chambers, a freshman, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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