When students move off campus, the deans only expect two things from them: first, to live by the Honor Code, and second, to pay for a meal plan.
While the commitment to follow the Honor Code is good for all students, the need to buy a meal plan should end when students move to places where they will have their own kitchen. The administration should allow off-campus students to opt out of a meal plan because it will help students eat healthier, save money, and eliminate overcrowding in the Knorr Dining Room.
One of the main reasons students move off campus is to save money. Living off campus saves students more than $1,600 dollars every year, and allowing off-campus students to cook for themselves will help them save even more money.
The two minimal meal plans allowed by the school cost $1,970 each semester. One gives students 10 meals a week, at $13 per meal, and no Liberty Bucks (or “Charger Change,” as the cool kids still call it). The other plan gives students 100 meals for the entire semester at $19.45 per meal, and $25 in Liberty Bucks.
According to Forbes, home-cooked dinners cost $4.31 on average. If a student cooks dinner five times, spends $30 eating out twice, and spends $30 on breakfast and lunch food, they would be spending about $80 a week for all of their meals — roughly $1,120 each semester. That’s $850 less than the cheapest meal plan, and provides twice as many meals.
When the average graduate from Hillsdale has $26,000 in student loans, keeping students from saving money by cooking at home is callous.
The college has a financial interest in keeping students on the meal plan. If off-campus students stopped paying, costs would rise for students that stay on the meal plan. The college should pay for some or all of the increased costs to students. While students are struggling to leave without debt, the college’s endowment reached $548 million dollars in 2017, with assets valued at almost $1 billion dollars. Without renegotiating the Bon Appetit contract at all, the college could pay for 200 students on the 100 block to leave the meal plan for about $788,000 per year, or fourteen-hundredths of one percent of the endowment.
Fourteen-hundredths of one percent is an easy investment in student well-being.
One argument for keeping all students on the meal plan is that it improves campus culture by bringing everyone up the hill to eat together. This is naive. Students in the cafeteria eat in the same place, but they do not eat together. Sports teams, Greek students, and friend groups sit together. One could argue that forcing students to eat in the dining hall is harming campus culture because it contributes to tension caused by overcrowding in the dining hall.
Allowing off-campus students to eat at home will take hundreds of students out of the dining hall and is a simple way for students to relieve tension caused by overcrowding.
In the three years that I’ve been chained to a college meal plan, I gained 30 pounds. The first night I came home after my junior year, my mom said, “You’ve got quite a belly now.”
In the one semester I was on the Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program and not on a meal plan, I lost 20 pounds. I had more energy, started running, and felt better at the end of the day. Now that I’m back on a meal plan, I’m terrified that I’m going to get my belly back.
Eating healthy and saving money are hard enough. Hillsdale College should not make it more difficult by requiring off-campus students to buy a meal plan.
Sutton Dunwoodie is a senior studying political economy.