300-Meal Plan Scams First-Years Out of Tuition, Meals

On April 21, 2017, I came to “All Roads Lead to Oberlin” after putting down my deposit for Oberlin a week earlier. I wanted to meet fellow incoming Obies, learn more about my home for the next four years, and convince my dad that, contrary to popular belief, going to Oberlin would not make me turn into an elitist hipster. After an early morning flight, my dad and I trudged onto campus. I was wide-eyed, excited, and eager to commence the next chapter of my life. We started the day with a speech from Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Tim Elgren. He talked about his hopes and dreams for our incoming class and what made Oberlin so unique. In the middle of his speech, at least a dozen Oberlin students barged through the doors with posters. They grabbed the microphone from the dean. At first, I thought that the students were a part of the presentation, meant to show how passionate Oberlin students are, but it soon became clear that the admissions staff and the dean had no idea about the protest. Students explained that the College had just made changes to financial aid that required incoming first-year students to be on a $4,000, 300-meal per semester plan for four semesters. They also explained that if students joined Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, $1,000 would be removed from their financial aid packages. The students urged us to raise our voices as prospective students to advocate for ourselves. After the protest, Elgren said, “Welcome to Oberlin.” His nonchalant comment minimized the importance of the protest. I did not realize how relevant the situation was. I did not raise my voice.

Four months later, I stepped onto Oberlin’s campus, officially an Oberlin student. My parents and I headed to a barbeque in Stevenson Dining Hall that night to celebrate move-in day and the start of orientation. The food was delicious. I assumed that every meal was going to be this great and I thought to myself, “Thank goodness I have those 300-meal swipes! I’ll never go hungry!” As classes started, it became clear that there was no way I would be able to use every meal swipe. With my class, activities, and work schedule, I was lucky if I used two meal swipes a day. At the end of the semester, I had only used about half of my 300 meal swipes. The required meal plan is roughly $4,000. This means that I lost $2,000 on food I did not eat or buy. I am not alone. First-year College student Barnaby Woods estimates that he lost about $1,300 from unused meal swipes. Similarly, first-year College student Alex Scott calculated that, based on his used meal swipes, he was paying upwards of $20 for each meal. To make matters worse, students who spent Winter Term on campus learned that their unused meal swipes from first semester did not carry over into Winter Term. We are also required to have this restrictive meal plan for four full semesters. This plan puts a burden on all first-year students and an unfair financial strain on low-income students. It is time for change. This plan is unacceptable and current students have an obligation to create change for future Oberlin students.

I do not propose that we protest at “All Roads Lead to Oberlin.” However, I do suggest that we raise our voices and make ourselves heard. If Oberlin continues to require the 300-meal plan, there must be changes. First, unused meal swipes from the fall semester must carry over into Winter Term. Second, students should be allowed to use multiple meal swipes during any time slot. Students deserve to get their money’s worth of food.

First-year College student Kyra Amundson created an online petition to demand the attention of Campus Dining Services and the Oberlin administration. Parents and students have signed the petition, citing their personal experiences with wasted resources under the required meal plan. In order to create change, students of all years must come together to support first-year, prospective, and low-income students. We all understand that Oberlin has to undergo many changes in the upcoming years to ensure that the College becomes financially sustainable. Scamming first-year students into buying more meals than they can use and leaving low-income students hungry during Winter Term is not an acceptable way to address our financial troubles. Our college values inclusivity and diversity. We have a long way to go to make this school truly accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but fixing the unjust meal plan is a place to start.


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