Off-campus stu­dents should not be required to have meal plans| Pexels

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.