Opinion: Why the Amount of Dining Dollars Is Not Enough

Bon Appetit staff prepares rice bowls and other grill items in the Eat Shop in the Kellogg Center. The Eat Shop is just one of the few places where students like to use their dining dollars (Photo by Akaiia Ridley).

When given the option of choosing our room and board for the year, students are also given the option to choose between three meal plans. Meal plans are designed to give students living in Fiske House, Ingham Hall, Wesley Hall, Seaton Hall, Mitchell Towers and Whitehouse Hall a plan for where they will eat for the semester and how much they will do so. 

Along with meal swipes, students are given something called dining dollars, which is a form of currency that allows students to purchase specific items. For their meal plans, students get the options of 15 meals swipes per week with $50 in dining dollars, 18 meals per week with $75 dining dollars or 21 meals per week with $150 dining dollars. 

Dining dollars can be used at the Eat Shop, located in the Kellogg Center, as well as the Canteen and Read Between the Grinds, both of which are in the Library. There are many options for students to use their meal swipes if they choose to not use them at Baldwin, which include various sandwiches, salads and smoothies at different locations around campus. There are also different items that can be purchased using dining dollars rather than a meal swipe. Items for purchase include chicken tenders, french fries, hot sandwiches, sushi, quesadillas and more. 

Oftentimes, students take a look at Baldwin’s menu and find the options unappealing Although Baldwin has a diverse set of options to pick from, sometimes students just simply want something simpler, like  chicken tenders.

Students are grateful for the money they are given to spend on these special food items, but sometimes, hungry college students feel like the amount they get is not enough to last the whole semester. 

Baldwin’s hours often run during the time people are in class, team practice or  work. It’s also not uncommon for students to schedule their classes back to back, giving them a maximum of 10 to 15 minutes in between classes to grab food. This is not enough time to sit back and relax over a meal in the cafeteria. Grabbing a quick sandwich from the Eat Shop or some sushi from the Library is often a go-to when this is the case. 

Even for a late-night snack, sometimes the items that count for a meal swipe like the cooler items are all gone for the day, and a wrap or rice bowls are just not what a student wants to eat. 

“I believe that some of the food items should count for swipes, the dining dollars run out way too quickly,” said  Cianna Brown, a sophomore from Mansfield, Texas. 

Brown gets the 15 swipe meal plan that comes with 50 of dining dollars. 

Brown usually uses her dining dollars at the KC to grab some chicken tenders, which run at $3.50, but buying them often adds up, thus diminishing the number of dollars she has for the rest of the semester.

Students all try different ways to ration out their dining dollars, but sometimes, it’s just not possible. In these cases, students’ dining dollar balances run out  before they know it.

Multiple meal plan options allow students to have the option of how many dining dollars they want, but even getting the max amount doesn’t necessarily satisfy the hunger of a college student. 

Roscell Hines, a junior from Chicago, Ill., gets the plan that includes 21 meal swipes a week with 150 dining dollars. 

 “It’s not enough,” said Hines. “I don’t even use them that often because of being able to drive off-campus, but they still get used.”

Hines is one of many students who has a car on campus, so he is able to grab food from off-campus if necessary. Makayla Hawkins, a freshman from Chicago, Ill.,  gets the maximum amount of dining dollars as well.

“It’s enough for me, but my friends only get the $50 and that’s not enough,” said Hawkins.

Dining dollars can also be used to purchase other items in the KC, which are off to the side in the area set up to resemble a store.  Items for purchase here include laundry detergent, personal hygiene items and over the counter medicines, like Tylenol.

“Sometimes, people can’t get the stores right away, and that is the closest option,” said Hawkins.

While there are students who have the ability to drive to the stores, some students can’t. When a student needs something quick and right at the moment, it is just easier to go to the KC and use dining dollars.

“It sounds like a lot but it’s not,” said Draylon White, a first year from Dallas, Texas, who has 150 dining dollars per semester. “It easily runs through.” 

Being from Texas, White does not have the ability to just go home whenever he wants to. He also does not drive, so his food options are limited to campus.

“We shouldn’t have a specific number of swipes. We pay a lot to attend here, and many of us are hundreds of miles away from home,” said White. “We are limited to how much we can eat.” 

The meal plans that include dining dollars are only available to students who live in Fiske House, Ingham Hall, Wesley Hall, Seaton Hall, Whitehouse Hall and Mitchell Towers, thus excluding the large part of the student population who live in the various apartment building options. These students are not able to get the same meal plan deals.

These students use what is called the commuter plan. They are given the option of 75, 100, or 125 swipes in total to be used in one semester. With this, there are no dining dollars included at all. Just like dining dollars, unused swipes do not roll over each semester. Once they are gone, they are gone, and they can’t be saved for a subsequent semester.

Joey Tatar, a sophomore from Battle Creek, Mich., lives in Munger. Tatar is on a commuter meal plan and does not get any dining dollars. He gets 100 swipes per semester to use around campus.

“I think that commuter plans should have the opportunity to purchase dining dollars,” said Tatar. “We can’t get some stuff from the KC late night or any snacks unless we pay with actual money, and the amount we pay for the plan, in general, should be enough to cover a few dining dollars too.” 

Kelsi Inman, a senior from Jackson, Mich., lives in the Mae apartments, so she gets no meal plan at all. Inman chooses to cook for herself,go home or go out when she needs to eat.

“I wish I was on the meal plan. I miss the opportunity to get dining dollars,” said Inman. “Even when I was on the meal plan, I had the lowest, and I ran through it within a month.” 

Dining dollars are a treasured asset to the students on campus who receive them. They are a great addition to the meal plan, but sometimes, students just wish we could have a little more, especially on days where Baldwin doesn’t work out as an option. 

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