We are nearing the end of the semester, which means the student body is silently splitting into two groups: those with 500 meal points left and those with only five. On Nov. 21, I squarely found myself in the latter category. The last thing I bought was a Grande Iced Caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks. As it currently stands, I have $0.58 left on my meal plan.
This leaves me with one of three options. I can either a) add more money to my meal plan, b) buy and cook food for the rest of the semester or c) depend on the kindness of my friends that fall in the “500-meal points-left” group.
But why is this even a predicament for students? Or better yet, why is it such a common one?
Personally, I believe that there are several factors on both sides that contribute to the end-of-year meal points struggles that plagues the student body every semester.
The first issue is the one most students notice first; the food here is really expensive. As each day of the semester passes, I find myself closely watching what the cashier enters when they ring me up, not because I do not trust them (most of them are very nice), but because I want to see just what has me paying about $8 each morning for breakfast. I do not know, perhaps I am forever doomed to compare food prices at Stony Brook to the ever-affordable delis and bodegas I grew up with. Maybe there is some good reason for some of this food to be so expensive, but as of now, I do not see it.
Another thing that would help is being able to keep track of my meal points and how much I have left in my account. There are two ways to do this, but only one of them actually works. The most surefire way to keep track of your meal points is to ask for a receipt from the cashier when you buy food; somewhere on the receipt it should say “BAL” and next to that should be your meal point balance. Compare your balance with one of the posters that shows you how many meal points you should have left, and you are as golden as Ponyboy.
The other way would be using the Stony Brook Campus Card app for your smartphone. You know, when it goes more than a few minutes without crashing. While the receipt method is sound and easy enough to do, it would be a great benefit to many students if we had a Campus Card app that worked reliably.
On top of the problems that we have with the meal point process alone, there is also the great mystery surrounding our meal plan: each meal plan level, from bronze to platinum, has a $605 operating expense. The Faculty Student Association website explains that this goes towards renovations, like Roth Regatta Café and West Side Dining Phases I and II.
The website also gives a breakdown of each meal plan. While you may pay about $2000 for the cheapest meal plan, you only get about 1300 meal points due to the $605 operating expense. And then there is the infamous rumor that part of our meal plan is used to pay for stolen items. Whether this is true or not, I do not know.
What I do know is that our meal plan system might be in need of a renovation. Far too many students end up with little or no meal points come finals week, which is possibly the most stressful time of the year. No one wants to emerge from their room for the first time that day after watching Echos and highlighting and making flash cards and go to a dining hall only to find out that they have no more meal points left. And it is not like this would be an impossible thing to fix; Campus Dining has actually been pretty good with trying to optimize things, such as getting the meal plan to roll over and the installation of the kiosks in the SAC.
Now, whether or not those worked out like they wanted is a matter of opinion. But maybe all we need is a meeting or two between some members of the student body and the FSA and we can have this problem fixed or, at the very least, clarified.