Few issues earn as much ire on Miami’s campus as the meal plan. The hours for dining halls are bizarre and unwieldy. Buffet swipes disappear after each semester. The Diplomat Discount, giving 33 percent off every declining balance purchase, is gone.
Another big one: cost. Even the lowest tier of Diplomat meal plans (dubbed Diplomat Minimum) costs almost $2,000, which seems — at first glance, at least — to be an absurd amount of money for something with so many glaring weaknesses. Gallup reports that the average young adult spends $173 per week on food, or nearly $9,000 per year.
So is the meal plan really such a bad investment? Let’s look at the numbers.
Assuming that each declining balance dollar is equal to one U.S. dollar (which, as you’ll soon see, is not a great assumption), a meal swipe costs between $7 and $8, based on the Diplomat Minimum and Diplomat Standard meal plans in 2016-2017.
Depending on how much and how often you eat at buffet locations, that’s not a bad deal. But if, like many students, you’re left with over 100 meal swipes remaining at the end of the semester, you’re effectively paying more than $12 per meal. That’s less appetizing.
But declining balance is where the university’s meal plan goes nuts.
Based on a brief comparison of prices at Armstrong’s Emporium vs. Walmart, the average cost markup exceeds 85 percent. A college staple — Kraft Mac & Cheese (2.05oz) — costs $0.80 at Walmart, but $2.05 at Emporium.
Given that there’s a cap on places that can accept declining balance dollars (i.e., OSU won’t accept Miami dining dollars, nor will any restaurant in the state of Wyoming) there is no impetus for Miami to charge less at places like Emporium or Sundial (I know what a $5 Caesar Salad looks like, and it’s not the one they’re serving).
Now, to be fair, Dining Services doesn’t have the logistical finesse of Walmart that keeps their food dirt-cheap. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t reduce prices. Miami’s dining needs to work for the students, not strictly for a profit. Because the meal plan is so pricey, I’m sure they can afford to take a hit.
And to give credit where credit is due, the new declining balance-heavy meal plan — dubbed Diplomat Plus — is a step in the right direction, but still overpriced. Our students need to be able to afford to eat on campus; if we bring down the prices of food, we can make our declining balance dollars stronger.