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Are you being ripped off with your Meal Plan?

Details reveal how much money students may be losing

By Althea Benloss
On February 26, 2012

College students may agree that money is an important, if not the most important, factor throughout the duration of each semester. When one feels threatened by the deficiency of rightly deserved funds, it is likely to cause a lot of confusion and possibly loss of trust. Therefore, when numbers of how much money the University of Bridgeport students are losing out on emerged, it became an immediate cause for concern.

Students residing on campus are required to choose from the four meal plans that are offered, which accompanies a certain amount of dining dollars on the student's ID card, for purchases made at the hUB or the Scribe Café. It is very common for students to run out of dining dollars far before the conclusion of the semester and according to Vice President of Facilities George Estrada, he believes that the hUB may be the factor.

"I think that what might be happening—because the hUB is so popular, everyone rushed to use the dining dollar side of their plan," Estrada said. "The plan hasn't changed; it's been the same plan."

Estrada said that the attraction of the hUB with its dining selections is what has really resulted in students hoping for more on the dining dollars side, as opposed to going into the dining hall.

President of Student Government Association (SGA) Colin Capaci made a presentation to the Board of Directors and was able to convey his thoughts and concerns to the highest level of the university about the meal plan. He had his CFO run the numbers, and looking at the breakdown, there were many inconsistencies.

"Within the top three issues, number one that I hear about is Dining dollars; and not enough dining dollars, or the food is too expensive, or something related to food," Capaci said. "I love food myself, so I look at my own meal plan and I ran some numbers and looked at how much we put into food in our tuition and compared those two numbers and saw that there was a pretty big gap there."

According to the SGA breakdown*, on campus students pay $2,800 for food. When the meal plan is broken down mathematically, the following displays the accurate value of each meal plan and its deficit (the amount of money students are losing out on) out of the $2,800:

  • 19 meals ($75 in dining dollars); deficit of $534
  • 17 meals ($125 in dining dollars); deficit of $645
  • 12 meals ($200 in dining dollars); deficit of $1,000
  • 8 meals ($400 in dining dollars); deficit of $1,300

*It should be noted that the deficit numbers are based on if a student uses every meal plan and factors such as overhead (labor, facilities, food cost, etc.) are some factors not included in the analysis.

"How much can you spend a day, every day of the semester and have enough dining dollars by the end of the semester? The answer comes out to around $2.25 for $400 dining dollars," Capaci said. "$2.25 is how much you can spend a day. It's not enough to get you a Sobe."

"The most important thing that I want to convey is that the university has zero profit on the food services," Estrada said. "Food is a pass-through, which means there's no mark-up whatsoever."

He noted that whatever the cost of all those meals is, it is covered by the students' dining package and the contract is called a cost plus.

"Sodexo is not in any way profiting tremendously by doing a major mark-up on food and profiting from the students," Estrada said.

"When we pay $2,800 for food we expect the value of $2,800 for food," Capaci said. "And that's what we're looking for here; we're looking to get more dining dollars; more options."

The Board of Trustees and the President are aware of this, and according to Capaci they are all in negotiation about it.

Estrada said that the President as well as The Board are always very receptive to the concerns of the students.

"What we do know for certain, is that any amount of excess money, which there is, isn't coming to us, which we feel is entitled to," Capaci said. "We would understand if maybe there is a couple hundred dollar difference per student, but we're looking at a thousand dollar differences per student; that's too much."

Sophomore Kiyomi Todd said that she feels like she's being ripped off.

"It doesn't seem right," she said.

She almost regrets changing her meal plan to eight meals because then she would have had more options with Marina when the dining dollars run out.

"If you have only $5 to spend, then your option is, like, chicken and fries. The natural foods and the better foods are more expensive but I can't buy that," Todd said. "I can only stick to the fast food, and I don't want fast food every day."

"As a student I feel cheated," Capaci said. "I feel like I could be getting more for what I'm paying for, and I love food and I love to eat. There's no way I'm eating more than $2,800 in three months, but I could be coming close to it and I'm not able to."

"We want the administration to know that we're aware of this; and where is [the money] going? What is that money being used for? Why isn't it coming back to us? I promise you if you give us more dining dollars, you will make more money," Capaci said.

The General Manager of Food Services Jenn Currier said, "Ultimately, what we want to do is make sure we're offering the right combination of plans as far as how many meals they're getting and how many dollars are tied with the meals."

Currier believes that once everyone sees what the changes in the fall of 2012 are and the new food choices will be, students will be interested in more meals versus more dollars on their card. She also elaborated on all the major transformations that are to be expected in the campus dining hall and the various options that will be provided next semester, such as healthier food options, a cook-attended salad bar, higher count in desserts, etc.

"Everything that we've decided to design for the fall, whether it be menus, types of food, stations that we're going to offer is all a direct response from feedback we've gotten from students," Currier said.

"Put the pressure on Marina, put the pressure on Sodexo; Let them know that students are aware and not ignorant to what their meal plans and to the numbers that are public information, and we're not happy with it," Capaci said.


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