Virginia Tech boasts the best collegiate dining in the country, but when money is a scarce luxury for upperclassmen, the meal plan you choose may end up costing you more than you think.
According to John Echols, a graduate student in Materials Science and Engineering, students living off campus may actually be getting less bang for their buck with the offered dining plans. He took time to calculate the value of the available meal plans, and determined the best option for students who eat on campus.
“It seems most people don't look into the actual cost and understand that the 50% discount comes at a much higher price”, Echols said. “I've always been bothered by the way students spend their meal plan funds, and seeing the data laid out really solidified things.”
Echols recently sat down and created an informative graphic that describes the exact long-term costs of the meal plans for students living off campus, and submitted it to Virginia Tech’s Reddit page, which allows anonymous users to submit links or topics and converse through a message board system.
There are multiple options for students living off campus when it comes to food. Minor flex plans are generally recommended for students who live off campus and cost $803. However, students only see $321 of that when they go to buy their favorite pastry or sandwich.
The most attractive feature of meal plans are the discounts, which correlate to 67 percent off at D2 and 50 percent off a la carte facilities, such as Turner Place or Au Bon Pain.
“The separate meal period structure at the all-you-care-to-eat (facilities) versus the continuous service of the a la carte locations provide a lower operating cost,” said Ted Faulkner, Director of Dining Services. “The discounts are based on the operating costs, services, menu selections, production complexities and offerings across the entire department.”
According to the Dining Services website, more than 11,000 off-campus students purchased some sort of meal plan last year. According to Echol’s data, however, most of the students would most likely have been better served putting the same amount of money into a Dining Dollars account, which fetches a 5% discount along with the designation of being tax-free.
Echols’ data concludes that unless you’re eating more than half of your meals this semester at D2, it would be unwise to purchase any sort of structured dining plan.
While the 67 percent discount at D2 may be too good to pass up, the majority of off-campus students are looking for a quick snack or lunch in between classes.
Faulkner, however, prides the system on its flexibility of the off-campus plans that are offered.
“Flexibility is key to today’s student, hence the term Flex,” Faulkner said. “It empowers the student to have complete control where or when to use their individual dining plan and which plan is right for them.”