First-year freshmen often come to college not knowing what to expect, as it is usually a new town, a new experience and their first real taste of independence. Most colleges tend to assume because it is a new experience, most freshmen are not prepared for it, and they insist they have a meal plan as well as stay on campus to make the transition easier. However, although it may be useful, I argue freshmen should not be required to have a meal plan, so they may learn to properly feed themselves, avoid financial struggle and learn to make their own decisions.
For the traditional 18 or 19-year-old student, it is often their first time being in a situation where they are fully responsible for feeding themselves and deciding how and what they are going to eat. With this newfound freedom, freshmen should be able to explore what kinds of meals they want to eat and what they want to put into their bodies. Therefore, when a student is required to have a meal plan, it removes the option to decide what eating habits you want to create early on, especially if that particular college does not offer various eating alternatives included in their meal plans.
Also, learning how to cook and feed yourself is one of the most important aspects of growing up, regardless of what route you take. Although having a meal plan could be useful, it also takes away responsibility at a time in life where we are most expected to be responsible and prepare to enter the real world.
In addition, these mandatory meal plans nationwide are also extremely costly, and colleges, as well as dining services, are using their meal plan requirement for freshmen to make college even more unaffordable.
According to Tara García Mathewson of The Hechinger Report, the average college and university charge around $18.75 per day, for a three-meal-a-day dining contract, compared to the less than $11 a day a single person spends for food. Regardless of the fact many people do not even eat three full meals a day, this shows freshmen are being forced to pay an extra $2,000-$4,000 a semester for a meal plan they might not even want or fully use, and colleges are using this requirement to overcharge students for financial gain. Numbers like these impose financial struggles on many college students, and it also discourages many high school students and families from going to college, due to the steadily increasing cost of higher education.
According to Mississippi State University Dining Services, all freshmen living in on-campus Residence Halls will automatically be enrolled in the Ultimate Meal Plan when they sign up with Housing and Residence Life on campus, and meal plans are a two-semester commitment meaning when they sign up for a meal plan they are agreeing to pay the shown price twice, once in the fall and once in the spring. For the 2019-20 school year, The Ultimate Meal Plan costs $2,019 a semester with a freshman’s only other options are the Gold and Silver Meal Plans which are only $194 cheaper per semester at $1,875.
In addition to paying for a meal plan, freshmen also have to remember they are also required to pay for on-campus housing—where they also cannot choose where they stay—with their cheapest option being $2,344 and their most expensive option being $3,854 per semester as well, according to Housing and Residence Life at Mississippi State University. These required prices can add up to more than the cost of tuition alone for in-state students, and students do not even have the option of trying to save money because they cannot choose if they want a meal plan.
Lastly, freshmen should be able to decide what is best for them whether that is eating habits or what they can and cannot afford. These types of decisions not only help prepare students for the real world by giving them responsibility, but it also encourages living and learning in their own way, an opportunity for self-exploration. It makes the transition from teenager to adult much smoother, for it builds in a sense of comfort in knowing students will learn to care for themselves.
While I am all for meal plans and accessible food on-campus, I do not believe they should be required and forced on freshmen, especially those who may have specific diets, have existing financial limitations or simply do not need much food. Meal plans could easily be one of the ways we begin to work on decreasing the astronomical cost of college and encourage both healthier eating habits and higher education for our nation’s citizens.