When I made the decision to attend Yale, I was absolutely sure I would live on campus all four years — indeed, the beautiful residential colleges, the suite structure and the quality of on-campus facilities were all factors in my decision to apply.
Two years later, as we enter the stressful season of choosing suitemates, roommates and room assignments, I’m reasonably confident that I want to live off campus next year. This is mostly due to reasons beyond Yale’s control, varying from my personal relationships with a number of people to the inevitable sophomore year disenchantment with campus life and its 2 a.m. noises, crammed living spaces and shared bathrooms. What Yale can control, however, is its unreasonable and discriminatory meal plan.
As it stands, students living on campus must enroll for the Anytime, Full or Any 14 Meal Plans, at a cost of $2,817 per semester for the Anytime plan or $2,750 for the other two. That’s at least $5,550 per year, only $1,200 below what we pay for housing.
It’s a completely reasonable number if you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the dining hall. It might be reasonable if you always eat lunch and dinner on campus — Yale seems to think so, as it does not offer any real discount for selecting the Any 14 rather than the Full Meal Plan, instead giving students a mere $150 per semester to spend at Durfees or other over-priced venues.
But I, like a number of students, rarely or never make breakfast and seem to miss a lunch or dinner fairly frequently, whether due to a scheduling conflict or a simple tendency to eat out.
It should also be noted that for vegetarians, the dining hall options are often severely limited, pushing them to eat out more often if only for variety’s sake. Such students are paying for a significant number of meals that they will never eat, and they do it as the price of staying on campus.
By moving off campus, students can escape the meal plan entirely. Though they would still either have to pay for groceries or eating out, it seems reasonable to assume that they would spend at least some of this money anyway. A less radical option would be to purchase the genuinely discounted 5 Meal [a week] Plan ($809 per semester), allowing students to continue eating lunch on campus between classes.
Perhaps I’m unique, but the sense that I am grossly overpaying for a meal plan that I don’t fully use will play a large role in my decision about where to live next year. This should not be the case.
Yale sells itself to prospective students as a campus-centered institution. The residential college system is based on the idea that Yale is better off when students live with each other in tightly knit communities. It should be doing what it can to encourage students to remain either within their colleges or in on campus annex space their junior year. At minimum, it should not inadvertently push them to move off.
Perhaps the simple economics of the meal plan require that Yale coerce its students into buying more meals than they are likely to consume. After all, the fact that Yale has Commons and a dining hall for each college is a defining part of the undergraduate experience, but keeping open so many dining venues can’t be cheap. This is the only valid reason I can imagine for Yale to require that students living on campus purchase a minimum of 14 meals.
If this is the case, however, there are solutions less drastic than the 14-meal mandate. There’s no real reason why each dining hall needs to be open for breakfast every day — every time I’ve been to a JE breakfast, the dining hall has been deserted. Opening only four colleges and Commons for breakfast would save money and more than adequately serve early risers.
If fewer students were buying into the full meal plan, less money would need to be spent on food and staff at all meals.
And if, after such cuts, Yale still can’t break even on its meal plan, the cost is a reasonable one if it means that more students will stay on campus and residential college communities will remain more cohesive. After all, I’m sure it’s not financially sensible for Yale to have as many libraries as it does — Yale pays for them because they reinforce the intellectual atmosphere and diversity Yale strives to create.
If losing a little money on the meal plan means that more students live on campus — a goal Yale claims to support — then Yale should be prepared to lose away.
Harry Larson is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Wednesdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.