The University of Massachusetts undoubtedly has some of the best college food in the country, but it loses some of its savory goodness when it is forced upon you. All students living on campus are required to purchase a meal plan, and the plans come with a pretty hefty price tag. Let’s break down the options.
First, let’s consider the cost of food at UMass without any meal plan. If you walk into the Dining Commons with cash, it would cost you $8.00 for breakfast, $10.25 for lunch and $13.00 for dinner. If you paid for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it averages out to $10.42 a meal. If you are the type of person who only has two meals a day, it would average out to $9.13 for breakfast and lunch and $11.63 for lunch and dinner. Of course, you could also purchase food from the various retail outlets on campus, making it possible to get a full meal for under $7.
If you live on campus, you do not have the option to pay only with cash, you have to choose a meal plan. The Value Meal Plan is one of the most popular meal plans among freshmen and sophomores, and, like its name suggests, it provides the best value. The plan costs $2,296.50 and includes 224 meal swipes, which breaks down to a tad over $10.25 a meal. The 224 swipes average out to roughly two swipes a day with about 20 left over for those days when you are feeling extra hungry. If you are choosing lunch and dinner as your two meals, then the plan saves you $1.38 a day compared to paying with cash. However, if you choose breakfast and lunch, you are losing $1.12 a day compared to cash payment.
Juniors and seniors are still required to purchase a meal plan if they live on campus, but they are given the revered option of the Your Campus Meal Plan. This plan allows students to use their meal swipes at the various food retail locations throughout campus. This plan is often a favorite of upperclassmen because of the convenient locations of these retail cafes and because the YCMP plans have the lowest overall price tag.
Do not be deceived by the lower overall cost of the YCMP plans, though. At $2,240 for 200 swipes, the YCMP Platinum plan costs $11.20 per meal. At $1,145 for 100 swipes, the YCMP Gold breaks down to $11.45 a meal. And the YCMP Commuter option at $700 for 60 swipes is $11.67 per meal.
The convenience of the retail dining options seems like a great reason to get a YCMP plan, but when you consider that each swipe only gives you $9.50 at these retail locations, it does not seem like much of a deal. Not to mention that it is almost impossible to reach exactly $9.50 at the cash register, and the leftover change is lost with each swipe. So in comparison to paying with cash, you are losing at least $1.70 a swipe, considering you have the YCMP Platinum and picked your items just right to equal $9.50.
The only way to save any money with the YCMP plans is to use your swipes at a Dining Common during dinner. Imagining you have the Platinum Plan, you would save $1.80 during dinner at the dining commons. However, you would lose $0.95 at lunch and a whopping $3.20 at breakfast.
When breaking down the costs of the meal plans, the only area where students are receiving a discount is if they are using their swipes during dinner time. This is because the university charges $13 for dinner, a price that you would see on your check if you were going out on the town. If you do not frequent the dining commons at dinner time, you are losing money by purchasing a meal plan. It would cost you less to pay in cash.
Another factor that must be considered is leftover swipes at the end of the semester. The university does not offer rollover meal plans, and so any extra swipes are lost once the semester finishes. If you have the Value Meal Plan there is nothing you can do with your leftover swipes except gorge yourself at the dining commons during the final weeks. With the YCMP plans, you can throw all of your remaining swipes at the retail outlets.
The university prepares for end of the semester bulk sales, where students purchase entire cases of drinks, candy, chips, etc. Students do not receive a discount on these bulk purchases like you would get at Costco or BJ’s. Instead, students pay full price for every individual item. So students use their $9.50 swipes that they paid $11.20 for and buy a case of Monster for $72 instead of the $35 it would cost in a store.
The university makes it mandatory for on-campus students to purchase a meal plan. It seems appropriate that the university uses the term meal plan instead of meal deal, because these required purchases are not saving students money. I would think that students should pay less for food on campus than someone walking in from the street with some cash on hand. The university should either take measures to give students a discount on campus dining or drop the requirement of a meal plan. Even with the best discount of the Value Meal Plan at $10.25 a meal, you could be eating at restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Jason Roche is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]