The Spring 2014 Campus Dining Survey revealed that 71% of resident undergraduates spend their weekends on campus. (STATESMAN STOCK PHOTO)
The Spring 2014 Campus Dining Survey revealed that 71% of resident undergraduates spend their weekends on campus. (STATESMAN STOCK PHOTO)

This story is part one of a series on Campus Dining meal plans.

While Stony Brook University’s Bronze meal plan seems like an economically favorable decision for resident students, a Statesman review of Campus Dining prices and policies has revealed the plan is leaving students’ wallets and stomachs empty.

As of the Spring 2014 semester, 6,422 students were enrolled in one of the four residential meal plans the university offers, according to the Faculty Student Association website. Of those, 3,238 students were enrolled in the least expensive option—the Bronze plan.

The bronze plan costs $1,930 per semester including the $605 operating expense. This operating expense “is used to pay for Campus Dining facility renovations and debt service on new construction,” according to the FSA website. It is money that students cannot spend.

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After that operating fee has been deducted, students are left with $1,325 to budget throughout the semester, or approximately $11 to spend per day. In order for a student to have enough money to extend through the 17-week fall term, the plan averages 10 meals per week.

“The bronze plan was never intended for people who are going to be here seven days a week,” Angela Agnello said. Agnello is the director of marketing and communications for the FSA, which runs Stony Brook’s Campus Dining Services.

However, Stony Brook University’s Spring 2014 Campus Dining Survey, conducted by the university’s Center for Survey Research, found that 71 percent of resident undergraduates on a meal plan “spend every or most weekends on campus during the semester and of those 71% report buying food on Saturday and Sunday.”

The same survey found that the Student Activities Center “is the most frequented dining facility for a plurality of undergraduates.” The cost of a turkey sandwich at the SAC is $6, and the cost of a 20-ounce bottle of water is $1.75. A student on the bronze plan who made those purchases would have only $3.25 for the rest of the day.

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Taylor Bouraad, a junior majoring in marine vertebrate biology, used Stony Brook’s silver meal plan option until she decided to upgrade to gold after running out of money for four consecutive semesters. Bouraad said she tries to stay on campus most weekends throughout the semester.

The silver plan is less expensive than the gold, which costs $235 more for only two extra meals per week than the silver plan.

In comparison, the gold plan costs $353 more than the bronze plan for only three extra meals per week, while the silver plan costs $118 more than the bronze plan for only one extra meal per week. 

Bouraad said even though her estimated spending came to approximately $20 per day from eating multiple small meals and drinking a couple cups of coffee, money has become more manageable since transitioning to the gold plan. Yet, she feels certain issues still need to be addressed.

“I feel that the more ‘healthy’ meal options on campus are more expensive,” Bouraad wrote in an email, “which leads to many students, including myself, to pay higher prices for lunch and dinners.”

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If a student does not live in a cooking building they must pay the price of their meal plan in addition to the price of their room—which in all cases, far exceeds $5,000.

Among the 28 residence halls on campus, only four are designated “cooking,” where residents are not mandated to have a meal plan. In addition, Stony Brook has prohibited the use of “hot plates, [or] any cooking appliance including, but not limited to: microwaves, grill cookers, coffee makers without automatic shut off, toaster ovens, etc.” in any of the campus dormitories, according the university’s website. If a student decides to purchase meals off campus, these mandates ensure their options are limited. 

To help address students’ limited options, Stony Brook University opened the SBU Food Pantry on Sept. 18, 2013, becoming one of over 100 campuses across the United States that have joined the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

Since it opened in the fall 2013 semester, Casey McGloin, Stony Brook’s Food Pantry co-founder, said that the number of guests using the food pantry, mostly students, has increased from approximately 50 to 70 per week.

“The pantry initially started because of anecdotal information heard by students, staff, and faculty about students and staff not being able to afford to eat three meals a day or only being able to afford unhealthy food,” McGloin said.

To read part two of this series, click here.

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