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Many students are unaware that the same meal in the cafeteria can cost one student $7.86 and another $11.32—a 44 percent difference. There is a pricing bias built into the structure of the 10, 15, and 20 Meal Plans that students are not informed of when they choose between dining packages.

There are three meal plans that Lake Forest College students are required to choose from if they live on campus*:

  • 20 meals-per-week with a semester total of $205 Flex Dollars
  • 15 meals-per-week with a semester total of $493 Flex Dollars
  • 10 meals-per-week with a semester total of $865 Flex Dollars  

Regardless of which plan you choose—10, 15, or 20 meals— you are charged $2,563 per semester. Given that one Flex Dollar is equal to one US dollar (confirmed by Aramark’s Food Service Director Jason Micenko) and that there are 15 weeks in a semester, you can solve for the price of a meal under each plan. When doing so, you’ll discover that the same meal in the cafeteria is priced at $7.86 for students on the 20 Meal Plan, $9.20 for students on the 15 Meal Plan, and $11.32 for students on the 10 Meal Plan. This means that students on the 10 Meal Plan are paying $1.01 more per meal than walk-ins, who are charged $10.31 for Lunch or Dinner.

“We discount the meals for the 20 plan and increase the cost for the 10 Meal Plan because it is more cost effective to feed students in the cafeteria than in the P.O.D. or Boomers,” said Lori Sundberg, vice president for finance and planning and treasurer of the College. “So there is a pricing bias built in to encourage the larger meal plan purchase.”

If students on the 10 Meal Plan were paying the same price per meal as students on the 20 Meal Plan, they would get $519 more in Flex Dollars per semester without the pricing bias.

According to Sundberg, it is up to students and their parents to decide which meal plan best suits their needs. “This isn’t anything we’re trying to hide,” said Sundberg. “We would have kind of expected people to do that calculation for themselves.”

However, many students don’t think to analyze the difference between the 10, 15, or 20 Meal Plans when making a decision. “I chose my meal plan just because it seemed kind of balanced,” Sandra Campos ’20 said, referring to the 15 Meal Plan. But when asked if she was aware that price per meal is different between the three meal plans, she said, “I didn’t know that.”

When asked if he knew of the pricing bias, Elias Ortiz ’17 said, “it makes sense, but I wouldn’t know if I didn’t think about it.” Yet, despite knowing about the different prices of meals, Ortiz was unaware of what he really pays per meal in the cafeteria. “It’s between $5 and $7 a meal,” he said. Being on a 15 Meal Plan, he actually pays $9.20 per meal in the cafeteria.

Students and parents might want to rethink their meal plan selection this fall.

* This analysis does not include the 5 meals-per-week plan open only to seniors.

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