Nine in 10 Elon University residential students are on some sort of meal plan. Though the university seeks to provide its students with a wide range of quality food options, there is little financial incentive for students to buy in.
Depending on a student’s plan, costs per meal can range from about $9 to $11.65.
Freshman Katy Laser has noticed a discrepancy in how much she pays for a meal and what a meal is actually worth.
“It’s frustrating, especially when you can see at places like Freshii the actual cost of what you’re getting and know that you’re still paying more for it,” Laser said. “But at the same time, I don’t really have a choice. It is what it is.”
To understand a meal plan’s cost-effectiveness — or lack thereof — it is important to break down each plan’s price and recognize which students are on it.
Breaking down the prices
The university offers the following five choices: “200 Block,” “300 Block,” “All Access Basic,” “All Access +7” and “All Access +14.” Prices for meal plans range from $2,830 to $7,318.
Those living in residence halls are required to have at least an “All Access Basic,” though most select the “All Access +7.” Block plans are particularly popular for those living off campus.
If the cost of the “200 Block” is broken down with Meal Dollars removed from the total cost, each meal costs $11.65. Each meal under a “300 Block” amounts to $10.51 using the same model for calculation.
Assuming students eat three meals a day and stay on campus for the entire academic calendar, which is about 200 days, they could easily spend more than $9 a meal.
Freshii and Biscuitville are some of the most centrally located retail facilities on Elon’s campus. The average cost of a meal, with tax included, is far below the price per meal students typically spend on their meal plans.
The average price of a full meal at Freshii is $9.49 with tax, while the average price at Biscuitville is $7.18. Students like Laser could be overpaying for their meals by hundreds of dollars each year.
Dwindling meal plan interest
Data from the semiannual Registrar’s Reports, Residence Life and Auxiliary Services, the employees responsible for staffing on campus retail facilities, reveal a declining interest in meal plans among students.
Sixty percent of Elon students have a meal plan, and the majority of them are required to have one.
Roughly three in five students on meals plans are required to have them because they live in residence halls. When students move off campus, they tend to shift to block plans or eliminate their plans entirely.
The number of students on meal plans has held steady around 3,900 the last four academic years. Elon has increased its first-year and overall enrollment rates in three of the last four years, yet the actual proportion of students with plans has declined.
Emphasis on quality, variety
The university recognizes the high costs of its plans but notes that money should not be the only factor students consider when determining whether to buy a meal plan. Carrie Ryan, Elon’s director of Auxiliary Services, praised the quality of the retail options on campus.
“You want to bring the higher-end food options,” Ryan said. “You’re not going to a Wendy’s on our campus. You’re not going to a McDonald’s on our campus.”
Ryan cited Biscuitville and Qdoba as some of Elon’s higher-end retail facilities. She also said residential locations serve as a site for class discussions and a social gathering space. In essence, students are paying for more than just a meal.
As a football player, senior Ikenna Nwokeji does not have to pay for his meal plan. Though he recognizes the expenses behind the plan, he appreciates the value he gets out of the all-you-can-eat dining halls.
“My favorite places are the dining halls just because it’s all-you-can-eat,” Nwokeji said. “I can eat as much as I want and be full afterward.”
Dining costs on the rise
Students saw a 3 percent increase in meal plan costs this academic year and will see another 3 percent increase next academic year.
“It’s a little expensive, but I guess that’s what you get when you get an Elon meal plan,” Nwokeji said.