In recent years, the University has placed a premium on encouraging upperclassmen to live on campus, with the stated goal of providing housing for 70 percent of its undergraduates in the near future. But administrators should recognize that the implementation of the expensive universal dining plan they proposed this week will likely undermine their stated goal, serving only to push students out of the housing system.
The administration’s proposal is ambitious. Starting next year, undergraduates with a meal plan would be able to eat as much and as often as they want, in any dining commons on campus. Dining halls would be open continuously from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week. Both Burton-Judson and Pierce, meanwhile, will be retrofitted as Bartlett-style food courts.
While this proposal undoubtedly has its merits, the increased cost to upperclassmen could prove prohibitive. Depending on the plan’s implementation, students would pay between $4,170 and $4,700 a year, while moderate and minimum dining plans (expected to cost $3,630 and $2,524 next year, respectively) would be eliminated. Flex dollars—currently students’ best option for eating whenever and wherever—would be reduced, and diners would be able to take, at maximum, five meals per quarter to go.
Already, the University estimates that students save $1,730 by moving off campus, with the actual savings often being substantially greater. Kim Goff-Crews, vice president for student life and dean of students in the University, has acknowledged that the financial cost is among the reasons most frequently cited by those who opt out of the housing system. Yet the new dining plan would represent a significant increase in cost for upperclassmen who previously would have chosen less expensive dining plans—no small consideration as the price of attending the U of C climbs north of $50,000 a year and the state of the economy continues to worsen.
Anticipating those consequences, the dining office’s frequently asked questions regarding the new plan offers the helpful response that “housing hopes that people will not leave.” But “hope” is not a strategy; the University’s plan patches one problem while further exacerbating another. Administrators should realize that dramatic price hikes will leave a bitter taste for those already questioning the affordability of on-campus housing.