On the surface, meal plans at UMBC are very convenient for students. All students have to do is pull out their red card, swipe and hope they did not go over into their flex dollars.
However, no matter how convenient, meal plans for commuter students are just not worth the price. The average price of a meal included in one of the commuter meal plans is more expensive than paying out of pocket with cash or a debit card.
If a commuter student purchases the priciest meal plan available to them, which is the Advantage 5 at $944, they receive five meals per week plus $60 in flex. The semester has 16 weeks, so that means there are 80 meals available in total for that student. In this plan, the average cost of a meal comes to $11.
That number is entirely too high for students to be paying, as the average price of a meal from one of the food places in The Commons is about seven dollars without a drink. Students will end up saving a significant amount of money throughout the semester by using their own cash or credit, especially if they choose to drink water for free.
It is also important to remember that in the Advantage 5 meal plan, the student is given five meals per week, so if one of the meals is not used during the week it does not carry over into the next week and instead is lost and becomes a waste of the student’s $11.
Multiple meals also cannot be used within the same meal block, so students aren’t even free to use their meals where they see fit. The Advantage 5 meal plan especially carries with it a large amount of waste.
Both other commuter meal plans, the Mega 50 Block and Mini 25 Block come to an average of nine dollars per meal, which is also above what students would pay out of pocket for a seven dollar meal with water. They only become worth it if you’re buying a soda everyday, which still just about evens things out.
True Grit’s is the only place to eat that will end up giving the student a discount in food prices. Lunch at True Grit’s costs $10.05 with tax, and dinner is $11.05 with tax. So if a student chooses to eat at the dining hall, they will get all their money’s worth from the plan.
A major issue with the dining hall is that most commuter students will not be eating there. Commuters mostly come to campus for a few hours a day and need to eat a quick lunch or dinner in between classes. The only viable and cost effective place to eat on campus for a commuter with meal plans is the facility that is used the least by that population.
Flex dollars available in the meal plans are definitely enticing for students, especially when it means an extra topping on a burger from Mesquite Ranch. Even with the flex, students will not save the money in the long run.
The commuter meal plans are options that are only useful out of sheer convenience. None of them are really worth it for a student on a budget that is looking to cut corners where they can.