UA, Aramark should let no UA student go hungry

For years, I have mocked the idea of the hungry college student. Who is going to take on the expense of college and not have money for food?

Conversely, if a student cannot afford food, why would he or she come to college?

Then, earlier this week, The Crimson White ran a story about students who struggle to pay for meals. Associate Dean of Students Lowell Davis said his office deals with two or three such cases a week.

That is an extraordinarily small number on a campus with 33,000 students, but it is still unacceptably high.

Davis said he would like to see a fund established so the Division of Student Affairs can help students in need.

Such a fund could go a long way toward solving the problem entirely, because it would not need that much money to resolve the small number of cases the Dean of Students office handles.

However, the University would not need to tap its financial reserves at all if Aramark, the corporate behemoth the University pays to provide food services, acknowledged a real sense of obligation to the community it serves beyond fulfilling its contract at the lowest possible cost.

Aramark runs Bama Dining and, beginning this year, all freshmen are required to buy an unlimited meal plan at a cost of $1,525.

That is an exorbitant burden on students already trying to pay tuition, and it limits students to vendors under Bama Dining’s control.

Students with the means to occasionally eat elsewhere will do so, though, because no one really wants to eat at the dining halls for every meal if they can afford something better. That means Bama Dining actually profits more when its customers go elsewhere, because those customers have paid for an unlimited meal plan but aren’t using Bama Dining for all of their meals.

Allowing a food service company to profit more when students reject the food it is serving is a strange way to structure incentives on a college campus. However, if we are going to maintain this tremendously unfair and convoluted system, we should at least do so with an eye toward the needs of our most vulnerable students.

The next best meal plan available covers 160 meals at a cost of $1,350. Freshmen cannot choose that option because of the unlimited meal plan requirement, but many of them will still eat fewer than 160 meals a semester.

If those students were allowed to donate all of their remaining meals below the 160-limit to struggling students, the hunger problem could be eliminated. Alternatively, Bama Dining could automatically roll those meals over into a special program for struggling students.

Bama Dining would still be able to require all freshmen to pay $1,525 for an unlimited meal plan. For those that don’t even eat the 160 meals provided by the $1,350 plan, though, Bama Dining would have to make up the difference by giving those meals to other students. In the end, Bama Dining would simply be providing at least 160 meals for every unlimited meal plan and could still pocket the $175 difference.

Bama Dining also gives students 10 guest passes with most of its meal plans and could allow students to donate their unused guest passes to hungry students.

Most college students are struggling financially because it is hard to attend class and maintain a steady, secure income. Some of us struggle more than others, though.

I was wrong about hungry college students.

They not only exist, but they have come to college to try to improve their skills and their prospects for success in life. We should not just help them; we should celebrate their drive and determination.

We should make sure they don’t have to choose between books and meals.

The University of Alabama is better than that.

 

 

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