Proposed Legislation Could Ban Meal Plans At Colleges, Universities

By Brenda Flanagan

“I didn’t want to buy a meal plan,” said Sarah Levine. 

Some students chowing down at Sam’s — Montclair State’s new cafeteria — say, they wish the menu here offered one more
option — a voluntary meal plan. 

“They made me buy a meal plan for Sam’s and I don’t really like the food here,” said Levine. 

But Levine had no choice. Most private and public New Jersey colleges require resident students to buy meal plans that easily top $1,000 a semester. Even though MSU’s got several different dining venues — including popular snack spots like Chili’s and Which Wich — for many kids, it’s less about the taste than the tab.

“I don’t want to pay extra for the food – cause it’s already a lot of money for tuition,” said Autumn Price.

“Like, I feel like I have to come here, because I’ve paid for it,” said Alexis Belton.
“Shoot. We’re paying a lot of money for everything else, might as well pay for the meal plan,” said Kalifah Foster.

Foster likes having someone else shop, cook and serve.

“It’s basically, it’s convenient, I believe. I’m not sure about everybody else but I’m happy with it. I think that it should be mandatory,” said Foster.

“The costs of higher ed — when you add it all up — are in my opinion exorbitant, and deserve a full view by the Legislature. We tried to do that with this package,” said Assemblyman Joe Cryan.

Cryan has co-sponsored several reform bills — including one that would flat-out ban mandatory meal plans at four-year colleges and universities. Instead, schools would offer only prepaid debit cards for meal purchases and if students didn’t spend all of it, they’d get a refund.  

“The idea is to provide affordability for students and their families, and provide options because, today the options are very few,” said Cryan.

According to Cryan, mandatory university meal plans for resident students in New Jersey range from $725 a semester at private St. Peter’s University, $901.50 at public Stockton College, up to almost $2,000 at Montclair State, $5,060 at private Georgian Court. At some schools, upper classmen and commuters pay less.  

“Here at Montclair State we have 13 different operations where students can use their meal plans. We have 14 different meal plans that students can select the type of meal plan that meets their needs, based on when they’re on campus, when they’re not on-campus,” said Karen Pennington, Montclair State University Student Development and Campus Life Vice President.

“More importantly, is keeping students healthy. This is really a health and safety issue. Making sure students have the nutrition they need,” said NJ Association of State Colleges and Universities Executive Director Michael Klein.

“So if we’re concerned about them spending time in the classroom and on studies. Now they’re also worried about all of these
other things — what they’re gonna eat, how they’re gonna eat. So we’ve added an additional burden,” said Pennington.

No matter how much money they fork over for a meal plan, people on both sides of this issue emphatically say they’re fed up with the high cost of college education.