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Unlimited Swipes and Limited Options

by Alyssa Smolen

Students that dorm often are required to pay for meal plans that many do not utilize at Montclair State University. Any resident with more than 30 credits is also required to have a meal plan. However, these students have the option to choose their desired plan and for less money than the mandatory unlimited plan for freshman or those under 30 credits.

“I would prefer not to have a meal plan whatsoever,” said freshman nutrition and food science major Nicole Heth. “I think as a freshman we should not be forced to purchase the unlimited meal plan because of people with food allergies or preferences.”

Heth identified as a vegan and finds it difficult to find choices that fit her diet. She is not pleased with the dining options at Montclair State and the plan she is required to pay for.

“I feel uncomfortable paying so much money,” Heth said. “I would be much better off going grocery shopping biweekly, including paying for transportation.”

According to the offices of Undergraduate Admissions and Residence Life, Montclair State enrolled 4,293 freshmen students in fall 2017 and approximately 12,000 students live on campus. This means that more than a third of Montclair State students were required to pay between $2,225 and $2,465 for an unlimited meal plan that many of these students do not utilize.

A student receives his pager after swiping in at the dining hall located in Freeman Hall. Therese Sheridan | The Montclarion

Block or swipe plans cost between $2,195 and $2,385. The cheapest block plan is less than the flat rate of the unlimited plan. Even the most expensive block option is only about $90 less than the “best value” plan of $2,465.

With the unlimited meal plan students have the option to go to the dining halls, Sam’s Place or Freeman, as many times as they wish. However, they cannot use a meal swipe at other dining locations on campus such as Chili’s, the Student Center Cafe or Au Bon Pain. In comparison, residents with block meal plans are permitted to purchase food using a swipe at any establishment on campus that accepts them.

Freeman Hall’s dining facility is located next door to the Freeman Hall dorms. Therese Sheridan | The Montclarion

Freshman jurisprudence major Alex Lavrador does not have a restricted diet but also is dissatisfied with the plan.

“I do feel that, if I were to frequent the dining halls on campus more often, I would be getting my money’s worth,” Lavarador said. “The lack of variety and healthier alternatives in the dining hall closest to my on-campus resident hall is what keeps me from going more often.”

Freshmen residents at the university are not completely sold on the idea of having an unlimited meal plan. It is unclear to some students why the unlimited plan is restricted to Sam’s Place and Freeman.

James Robinson, manager of dining services at Montclair State, said the idea is to create a communal dining experience for freshmen.

“The unlimited meal plan creates a central location for students to gather with people of similar interests and experiences,” Robinson wrote in an email. “The true value for an unlimited plan customer is the diner can enter as often as they wish throughout the day.”

Robinson mentioned that the limited locations within the unlimited plan is to reduce the stress of choosing where to eat. The selected dining halls, Sam’s Place and Freeman, are a way to bring new students together as all freshmen are required to use their swipes at those locations.

The ultimate goal of the unlimited plan is to help new students adjust to residence life. Having a smaller selection of dining options eliminates some of that uncertainty.

Montclair State wants to account for the many students who are living away from home for the first time, according to Robinson. Allowing unlimited swipes means that students will not run out of food and go hungry.

We’ve seen where students have mismanaged or miscalculated their block plans to the point where they had no remaining swipes,” Robinson said. “No one wants our students fearful of not having enough in their meal plan to carry them through the entire academic year.”


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