Opinion: The imbalance between meal plan prices and affordability

Campus Food Pantry refrigerator, located in the Campus School building at Boise State.
Photo by Corissa Campbell

It’s no secret that food prices have increased dramatically post-pandemic. This is true for both grocery stores and restaurants.

Even at Boise State, meal plans can be financially difficult to access for some students. Since the start of the new fall semester, many have already noticed that the food in the Student Union Building (SUB) is priced substantially higher than it was in the past. 

Food insecurity shouldn’t be a worry for full-time or part-time students at any university, and it seems that the prices are reflecting the issue at hand. 

There is a solution to this. I, along with many other students in my close circle of friends, have taken advantage of the Campus Food Pantry located in the Campus School at Boise State. 

The Campus Food Pantry is open to all students and offers access to free food and hygiene products.

The most expensive meal plan, the “Blue” plan, is the most expensive option, starting at almost $2,600 per semester. It is understood that a student has access to unlimited meals per week in addition to $400 in dining dollars and five guest meals. For some, however, that is not an attainable price to keep a student fed. 

The plans drop down to $2,365 and $2,088 and then onto the cheapest plan of $85 for 10 meals throughout an entire calendar year. 

That’s unlimited meals compared to 10 for an entire calendar year. It’s not feasible nor is it monetarily logistic. For those who are looking for a week-to-week option, dining dollars are available to fill the specific amount that a student needs that week.

Campus Food Pantry refrigerator, located in the Campus School building at Boise State.
[Photo from the Campus Food Pantry, located in the Campus School building.]
Photo by Corissa Campbell

Given all this, there is an underlying pressure from other students for underclassmen to experience the dining halls. For that to happen, the student needs to have a meal plan. There are no options for free trials or for those who need an extra financial boost in order to stay nourished.

As an avid Campus Food Pantry user, it is hard to go back to the dining halls. Fast food chains are more financially accessible for students than their own dining hall. 

In her State of the University Address, Dr. Marlene Tromp touches on access to the university for all students, implying that there is a precedent in place for more affordable tuition prices or even meal plans. These plans have yet to be announced.

It is also interesting to note that first-year students who live on campus and any students who live in first-year designated housing are required to have a weekly meal plan. If a student does not have a plan picked by the beginning of the fall semester, the Trailblazer meal plan will be automatically added to the student’s account.

That’s a $2,400 meal plan. 

With the understanding that students are encouraged to eat meals from the university’s dining services throughout their school year, it is difficult to grasp the idea that the second most expensive meal plan is the “default” choice, disregarding the student’s financial situation.

Another reason as to why the food pantry should be utilized more is because of the dietary restrictions that some students face.

The dining offices require students to fill out the Discuss Dietary Accommodations survey which is only the beginning of a never ending journey for students. 

Keep in mind that this does not accommodate dietary choices for students who may be vegan or vegetarian. These students’ dietary accommodations are discussed by a review panel, who then decide if the exemption is valid for acceptance. 

There is also an obligation to pay for the selected meal plan, which may be the “default” Trailblazer option, until the exemption request is approved and there is no timestamp given for how long that may take.

These meal plan prices aren’t going anywhere any time soon, but there are alternatives for eating well and staying healthy while attending Boise State University on a fixed budget.

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