The price of Boston College Dining’s meals relative to the multitude of nutritional needs of over 9,400 undergraduates force many students to ration their meal plan money and can make it difficult for them to meet their basic health needs.
BC Dining—the University’s primary food provider—is an organization that follows BC’s “Ever to Excel” motto and strives to “improve by innovating and making changes based on suggestions from students and faculty.” BC Dining’s problematic pricing structure contradicts the Jesuit values of health and self-care that BC holds dear. The ideal of cura personalis—or “care for the whole person”—not only includes spiritual satiation, but physical satiation as well.
Unlike other universities, which use a swipe and buffet style of dining to ensure students can eat as much as they want per meal, BC students must pay for individual items in dining halls via meal plans connected to their student accounts.
After the outbreak of COVID-19, nationwide worker and supply chain shortages caused by the pandemic forced BC Dining to make drastic changes to its operations, from reducing its hours of availability to removing entire menu items.
The one thing that has remained constant, though, has been BC Dining’s high food prices. These prices make it nearly impossible for students to eat three meals per day.
According to the BC Division of Auxiliary Services website, the mandatory residential dining plan for students provides $6,000 of “dining bucks” per year, or approximately $26 per day for each undergraduate on the plan. Despite this seemingly high daily allocation, these $26 can generally only allow for two meals per day, often with portion sizes that are determined by BC Dining staff, not students. These two meals do not even include drinks, snacks, or most add-ons.
This system frequently forces students to ration their meal plan money or else risk running out of all of their dining dollars before the end of the semester. Those who exhaust their semester plan must fully depend on other undergraduates’ meal cards or pay for upgraded “Flex” plans, which cost an additional $300, $800, or $1,200.
The BC Dining website does not specify if $26 per day includes meals on weekends or days off from classes, not to mention differences in students’ dietary preferences or allergies that would require them to have different spending habits than their peers.
If a student wishes to add a Flex Dining Plan, they must add funds directly out of a credit card, eCheck, or add charges to their student account. A Maroon or Gold Upgrade to the dining plan costs $800 or $1200, respectively.
Even if a student eats only three modest meals per day, they are likely to run out of money weeks before the end of the semester and will be forced to rely on other students’ cards until the semester break. This is an unneeded burden for students with normal dieting needs, especially during a critical time in the semester—preparation for final exams.
Admittedly, BC Dining is not the only university dining service struggling to provide adequate food at decent prices for undergraduate students.
While BC Dining itself has reported in an email to The Heights that it has seen a year-over-year increase of 26.3 percent in the cost of ingredients, the organization operates on a surprisingly low budget compared to other universities. According to an email from BC Dining, the annual cost for one residential meal plan at BC ($6,000) is lower than that of Cornell ($6,612), Dartmouth ($7,218), UMass Amherst ($7,392), Georgetown ($7,280), Holy Cross ($7,520), Tufts ($7,636), Villanova ($8,100), and Duke ($8,045).
Regardless of the cost efficiency of BC Dining, online BC resources continue to mislead students by asserting that the default residential dining plan can satisfy the needs of the BC student population. It is disingenuous for BC to advertise that the minimum dining plan will “meet most students’ dining needs,” when many first- and second-year students are struggling to make their meals plans last the entire semester.
At the surface level, there appear to be a variety of possible cost-effective solutions to BC Dining’s pricing issues, but it remains unseen if any are feasible. These possible solutions include the creation of a “swipe” buffet system like other comparable universities or creating an outlet for students to “sell” their dining bucks in a way similar to the system of Washington University at St. Louis. Lacking knowledge of BC Dining’s internal financial operations, however, The Heights Editorial Board cannot guarantee that any of these solutions would make fiscal sense or eradicate any of the pricing issues.
Despite the possible lack of viable solutions, the BC Dining status quo fails to uphold the Jesuit values of the University. In order to promote these ideals and care for their students more effectively, BC administrators should generate solutions to pricing issues in dining halls to prevent unhealthy food rationing and insecurity for undergraduates at the end of every semester.