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University of Colorado Boulder students suffocate under the weight of college tuition, living expenses and university fees. Likewise, dining hall meal plans are ridiculously overpriced, costing students thousands more than they would pay for food from the grocery store. CU also marks up prices for the most basic of food items, such as toiletries and other necessities in on-campus markets. Students should ditch their meal-plans and save their money.
Federal data shows that the price of a typical college dining hall contract has increased by 47% in the last decade. At the same time, national food costs only rose by 26%. Undergraduates who buy into dining hall contracts typically spend much more on food than the average American. And this difference isn’t always hundreds of dollars, sometimes, it’s thousands.
Reasons for cost inflation include labor, facilities, demands from students for higher quality food and increased earnings. Many universities generate a lot of revenue from their dining halls, markets and cafés. CU charges about $7 per meal. For a 15-19 meal-per-week contract that adds up to between $3,150 and $3,990 per academic year. In comparison, a student can eat for less than $11 a day using store-bought or grocery items, depending on where they go for food. This comes out to about $2,310 maximum per academic year. Students can save upwards of $1,890 per school year by opting out of the meal-plan.
There are three notable stipulations to the CU meal plan. First, if students do not use all of the swipes on their Buff OneCard that week, the swipes are not reimbursed or refunded. Second, freshmen aren’t allowed to opt-out if they live in residence halls on campus unless they have a medical disability waiver. Third, any upperclassman who decides to buy a meal plan is subject to pay tax on it. With these limitations and pressures on consumption, CU doesn’t put adequate effort into providing financial help or less costly alternatives for a basic and daily necessity: eating. Furthermore, CU doesn’t really even give freshmen the ability to choose a less expensive method.
CU does, however, offer supplemental cash for use at campus cafés and markets. They call this Much Money. Depending on the number of meals a student buys for the semester, students have anywhere between $150 and $270 in munch money. Munch Money is pre-loaded onto students’ buff one cards. Still, due to extreme inflation in market and café prices, this extra cash translates to little more than a few cups of coffee and snacks in the dorm.
For example, the University Memorial Center charges $2.39 for a Kind bar. Whole Foods in Boulder charges $1.99, while bars are even cheaper at the Safeway in Boulder at a $1.69. Likewise, Bobo’s Oat Bars are $3.29 at Kittredge Market and can cost up to $3.99 at the William’s Village Market, whereas they are only $2.49 at the Target in Boulder.
But not every student can afford a car or take extra travel time to get to places like Whole Foods, Safeway and Target. The most convenient option is eating on campus between classes, club meetings and other school obligations and so students wind up paying these ridiculous prices.
Why won’t the university provide student discounts or, at the very least, charge reasonable prices for something as simple as a granola bar? There are many reasons, but the simple answer is that CU has no obligation to.
Students don’t address their own financial exploitation at CU. My prescription is, if you can, opt out of the dining meal-plan and buy your snacks off-campus. You could save over $1000. As a freshmen, you may not have this opportunity yet. If you would like to address a greater cause, demand more transparency about over-priced meal plans and cost inflation in campus markets.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Vayle LaFehr at email@example.com.