Apartment meal plans should be optional for the sake of the student

Sophomores and upperclassmen living in on-campus apartments are required to pay the apartment meal plan, which provides 80 swipes and $300 in dining dollars. (Daily Trojan file photo)

For many students, the transition from freshman to sophomore year marks a milestone that brings more responsibility and opportunities for “adulting.” One of the first major changes most students encounter is the upgrade from dorm- or suite-style living to apartments. Whether it’s in USC Village or Cardinal Gardens, most apartment plans have one thing in common: a kitchen. 

Although some students might not want to cook for themselves and are happy to continue eating at the dining hall, this sentiment may not be the same for all students in USC Housing apartments. Whatever their preference, students should have the freedom to cook completely on their own. USC should make it optional for students to purchase the apartment meal plan.

During the first year at USC, freshmen are required to purchase an extensive dining hall meal plan ranging from $2,950 to $3,750 that covers most, if not all, of their meals. Most freshmen live in a small dorm room without a kitchen, so this requirement of a dining hall meal plan makes sense. Without the dining hall, a freshman’s only other alternative would be to eat out for every meal. 

But USC requires that almost all students living in apartments under USC Housing purchase a meal plan. Totaling $1,260 for the year, the plan includes 40 swipes and $150 in dining dollars each semester. Dining dollars act like cash but can only be used at certain restaurants on campus.  

Excluding the $300 worth of dining dollars throughout the year, that leaves the apartment meal plan charging students $960 for 80 swipes. This equates to a student purchasing a $12 meal anytime they go into the dining hall. Although this may not seem like a lot for one meal, it adds up over time. Students can easily find cheaper alternatives by shopping for ingredients at the local grocery store. For example, a student could make a dinner of chicken, brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes for under $10 using ingredients from the Trader Joe’s on campus.

Additionally, because the 80 swipes included in the plan only account for a little less than three meals a week for the whole academic year, students on the apartment meal plan cannot live entirely off the dining hall. They need to be able to cook for themselves anyway. This means students must purchase kitchen appliances like a microwave, toaster, pots and pans, but then cannot make full use of their investment. This makes the $1,260 of the plan an added cost rather than a deal or benefit. 

The 40 swipes doesn’t even roll over to the next semester, which adds unnecessary structure to a student’s eating schedule. So, if a student has swipes left over at the end of the semester, their money has gone to waste. This rigidness makes it likely that students will not get the most out of what they paid for.

For students with special dietary restrictions, eating in the dining hall can be especially difficult. Parkside Restaraunt and Grill  is the only dining hall with an Allergen Awareness Zone. It is also the only facility on campus that is a peanut/nut sensitive facility. However, the online dietary accommodations flyer concedes that even at Parkside “ingredients may still be produced in a facility that handles tree nuts/peanuts.” For those with certain allergies and restrictions, the dining halls pose a risk to their health. Yet, if these same students live in apartments, they are required to pay for a plan that includes 80 swipes to dining halls. 

Certainly, for many students the process of planning meals, grocery shopping and cooking for themselves is a new and overwhelming concept. It is perfectly fine that some students would rather get a little help every now and then from the dining hall. 

The problem is when students are forced to pay for a meal plan they don’t want and end up spending more than $1,000 on something they don’t use. After freshman year, students who do not need the dining hall should be given the option to exercise independence and the process of learning self-sufficiency without interference from the University.