The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Mandatory meals, housing wasteful for freshmen

    Stuck living on campus or eating in the cafeteria because the university said you have to your first year? Or, are you like many of the freshmen I know who were forced to buy a meal plan or pay for a dorm, which you never use? Obviously, both Aramark and school officials will try to tell you that on-campus housing and dining are the best things since sliced bread (which I’m pretty sure they don’t even serve in the cafeteria). The Dining Services Web site, for example, lists four primary reasons why its meal plans are your best “choice:” meeting new friends, convenience, value and advantage. That pretty much sums up the housing department’s arguments for mandatory housing as well. Well, quite frankly, all pun intended, dining services is full of bologna.
    Obviously, everyone is different, and if someone would like to purchase a meal plan or live on campus, then more power to them. However, it has become quite plain that, contrary to what they say, meal plans and on-campus housing are not much more effective at obtaining new friends (if more effective at all), are not more convenient, are not cheaper, and may not be as advantageous as they claim.
    First, you cannot bring a friend to the cafeteria who does not have a meal plan without that person paying a whopping $8 a meal. Who would eat at the cafeteria when you could eat at someplace like Barnhill’s for the same price? Also, how does the cafeteria encourage students to meet new people? People do not just sit down at a complete stranger’s table and build friendships. Usually, students who have already met go to the cafeteria together; but how is that any different than going to the Union or some other restaurant, or just going over to the other person’s dorm or apartment to eat?
    The same applies to housing. Because of the numerous restrictions placed on residents, it is often inconvenient to hang out at dormitories. Why would I go hang out at some friend’s crowded dorm room when I could bring my friend over to my spacious apartment, where by the way, me and my roommates can have members of the opposite sex as well as of the same sex over any time of the day or night, and not be as worried about keeping up our neighbors or roommates.
    Neither are meal plans or housing more convenient. As everyone knows, the hours at the cafeteria and for the Union are horrible. Those stuck with classes around noon have to go without lunch. Others may not be able to make it before it closes at night for whatever reason. Most of the eating places in the Union also are not open during the weekend or between eating periods, leaving people without many options for food.
    Housing on campus is not as convenient as most people think either. When it comes to walking, most commuter parking spots are actually closer to most classrooms than the residence halls, and some apartments, like mine at Campus Trails, are actually closer to my classes than all the other residence halls. At apartments, there are no mandatory hall or floor meetings. Neither do they close down during holiday breaks leaving many students stranded without a place to stay. Nor do students have to move all their furniture and belongings out between semesters.
    My real beef with mandatory housing and meal plans are their expensive prices. Both are highly unfair to prospective lower-class students. The claim that both are cheaper than alternatives is the most blatant lie the university could make; simple math will tell you that. Take the Gold 220 meal plan, for example. For about $1200 you get unlimited meals and 150 flex dollars. If you eat at the cafeteria twice a day, every day for four months, that rounds out to about $5 a meal. And that’s assuming you eat there, religiously, and that school actually consumes 120 days. I usually eat for less than $5 a day. I could make a hamburger, hot dog, PB & J, Raman noodles, spaghetti, or any number of things for no more than a dollar or two. Shoot, you can get full combos off the value meal at Wendy’s for $3. How a meal plan is cheaper is beyond comprehension for me.
    The same goes for apartments. For a 12-month lease at my apartment, I pay less than students do for two semesters (about eight months) at a residence hall. That includes utilities, transportation, down payment, everything. At my apartment, I don’t have to pay $5 to do my laundry, or even pay for a decal since I just walk to campus. Those living off campus also do not have to pay up front, which means they can work part time during the school year to pay their rent.
    Not only that, but I get much more bang for my buck than those in dorms, including private bedrooms, a public hot tub, a personal kitchen, more space, a patio, etc. Why people even live in residence halls when they don’t have to is beyond me.
    Many studies do claim that students who live on campus and have meal plans tend to have higher grades, graduate more often, and graduate sooner than those who do not. However, in all the studies I’ve read, none of them have shown any kind of causal relationship between the two. In English, that means there is a simple correlation between the two that could be from any number of factors. Maybe students who buy meal plans or live on campus are more affluent than those who do not, providing them with a natural advantage in college life. Perhaps, good students just eat on campus simply because they’re on campus more often doing whatever it is that good students do, such as studying at the library.
    Mandatory housing and meal plans for freshmen makes absolutely no sense from a student’s perspective. They are simply less sociable, convenient and economical. Not to mention, the monopoly created by mandatory housing and meal plans reduces competition. There are also the numerous details and exemptions to consider. What about married students, residents with nearby family, those with dietary restrictions, those with no home to go back to on the holidays, Greek students, disabled students, commuters with their own kitchens and others? Many of these are taken care of, but nonetheless, they become a hassle to the students and to the university itself. Mandatory housing also forces many upperclassmen who want to live on campus to live off campus because the dorms are all filled. That happened to me last year. In hindsight, however, I am glad it happened because I did not realize all the advantages of living and eating off campus.
    Lazarus Austin is a senior majoring
    in history. He can be contacted
    at [email protected].

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    Mandatory meals, housing wasteful for freshmen