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Eng: Two-year live-in requirement will worsen effects of terrible NU meal plan

Bryan Eng, Op-Ed Contributor

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Toward the end of Winter Quarter, I swiped into Sargent Dining Hall for lunch. After seeing the scraps of leftover cold pizza from the main rush, I headed to Foster-Walker Complex in hopes of better options. It was a Saturday and I had three extra meals to use before my 14 weekly meals expired at midnight. However, the cashier told me that because I had already swiped in to Sargent during this eating period, I was not allowed to eat again. I was left shocked and hungry, but unfortunately this is only one of many annoyances I’ve experienced with Northwestern’s meal plan.

NU is constantly raising its tuition year by year — with both the total tuition and room and board increasing by 3.7 percent last year — while at the same time the University maintains an often overlooked monopoly on food over those living on campus. The policy can seem pretty subtle at first glance: every freshman must live on campus and be on the university’s meal plan. But because freshmen are required to pay, the University is able to raise the price of meals to ridiculous levels.

And now, with a new two-year live-in requirement that would force both freshmen and sophomores to live on campus, even more students will be subject to the absurdities of the meal plan. Currently, there is a trend of sophomores who choose to live off campus after their first year. Does the University not notice the direct correlation between the prices they charge for room and board and the migration of students to off-campus housing? Rather than reducing prices to increase demand, NU is simply placing more restrictions upon both freshmen and sophomores.

Currently, the cheapest meal plan is the Weekly 14 Meal Plan, which costs $2,100 dollars per quarter. For that price, you get 14 meals per week and 30 points. In other words, you get two meals a day and $30 to use on campus over the course of 11 weeks. To save you the calculations, I’ve already done them — and redone them after I picked my jaw up off the floor. Each meal is approximately $13.50. The two meals I swiped in for — and didn’t even end up eating — summed to a total of $27.

If you don’t think that’s absurd, let’s put it this way: eating at Chipotle rather than at a dining hall twice a day would save you $1,000 per quarter. And if you don’t want to eat at Chipotle twice a day, try any of the other countless restaurants in Evanston and you’d still be saving money. Because of the overly binding school meal plan, many underclassmen may never fully experience the wealth of culinary options Evanston has to offer.

My concerns about the meal plan are not limited to my one bad experience at Plex. Students often forget that equivalency meals are another way the university swindles students of more money. Meals range from $5 for breakfast to $9 for dinner, none of which near the price of $13.50. Furthermore, the dining hours are very limited. If I am hungry at 8 p.m. on a Friday night, all of the dining halls are closed. I have no choice but to hike up to Lisa’s Cafe to use an equivalency meal, or order a pizza because NU realized it would save a lot of money by limiting its hours.

As a freshman halfway through the academic year, I have come to love this school and so much about it, but the meal plan makes me want to rip my hair out. NU needs to lower its prices for meal plans. Last quarter the administration announced a new “unlimited” meal plan for every incoming student, which will “most likely be cheaper than the Weekly 14 Meal Plan.” Sounds nice, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Meanwhile, I might be spending $2,100 on food this quarter, but at least I won’t be a victim of the two-year live-in requirement.

Bryan Eng is a Communication freshman. He can be contacted at BryanEng2020@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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