College is expensive.
And we’re not just talking about the price of tuition. Meal plans and dining hall fees can cost students a pretty penny as well.
Money reports that undergraduate students who eat all of their meals on campus spend up to 85% more per day on food than they would likely pay if they cooked all their meals at home.
In 2015, students paid an average of $4,300 per academic year for a 19-meal-per-week plan, which averages to about $7.50 per meal, according to data from the US Department of Education. In comparison, Americans living on their own dole out less than $4 per meal on average — including the occasional restaurant meal! — according to the BLS. Hello, dining hall markup.
At some schools, the cost per meal can be even higher. Students at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, end up paying around $12 per meal on-campus.
Overall, the average dining hall contract has jumped 47% in cost in the past decade, while overall food costs have risen by just 26%. What is making dining halls so much more expensive than cooking at home? Money identifies four key reasons:
- Labour: Whether it’s a restaurant or dining hall, anytime someone else is cooking for you, they have got to be paid.
- Facilities: A fraction of the cost of meal plans goes toward maintaining and renovating the buildings themselves, which can include everything from replacing plates and cutlery to repairing exterior damage.
- High-quality food: Dining halls are stepping up their game. Many campuses even cater to niche diet restrictions, regularly providing vegan and gluten-free options, for example. For some schools, outstanding dining options are also a major draw for prospective students.
- Profit: Dining halls are increasingly becoming a point of profit for schools. “Some colleges facing budget cuts or pushback on tuition hikes, for example, have opted instead to raise revenue through “auxiliary services” such as dining halls, parking lots and bookstores,” Money reports.