By: Alex Bak
McMaster University boasts one of the highest-ranking school food services with Centro at Commons claiming fourth place in the Huffington Post’s 2015 list.
It is also home to various food choices that services all kinds of tastes as well as cultural and dietary restrictions with vegetarian options at Bridge’s Café and gluten-free options for certain dishes.
Though this is true in some respects, it neglects the financial concerns and burdens that students face in order for this to be true.
An aspect of this rather idealistic market of eateries that shrouds a disregard for student finances is the Mac Express Meal Plan that is mandatory for first-year students living in residence.
This program is meant to be easy and convenient for students, but does not accounting for the ease and convenience of the students to fund such an exorbitant amount of money.
As an upper-year student who has lived in off-campus student housing and prepped meals instead of purchasing food on campus, I ended up spending around $50 a week to eat healthy, nutritious meals while still eating out on occasion.
With the minimum meal plan for non-apartment or suite-style students being $3,955, a mass equaling half of most programs’ tuition, it is a program that can devastatingly pressure the students’ financial burden.
To make things worse, McMaster Hospitality Services implemented an additional policy that 50 per cent of your meal plan money is set aside as “pre-paid overhead costs” for operating residence dining halls.
This will be deducted from the start offset with the 50 per cent discount on campus food, with any leftover funds being carried over becoming non-discountable for students after the year is over.
Unlike the printing accounts that students have to print at McMaster libraries, the meal plan does not guarantee your leftover money back the way PrintSmart does, which further contributes to the financial concerns of the McMaster meal plan.
This policy puts yet another load on students to finish their already unaccommodating meal plans to not be stricken with this penalty.
These implementations that are incognizant of possible burden almost act punitive in nature. These deter certain individuals from enrolling into residence and forces them to opt for off-campus housing for their first-year possibly missing out of a once-in-a-lifetime experience and social environment of residences.
The real issue is that those who work to promote the meal plan to students hide behind the slogan of “a plan to fit all needs”.
This slogan is untrue and needs to be reconsidered on the grounds of nutrition and convenience as well as the financial burden that it brings to students.
In addition to obliging students to eat on campus, the meal plan does not encourage students to discover the Hamilton community and experience new places.
It also does not allow students to attain the valuable skills to budget time and money, which is an important skill that first-year residence students and students in general should learn.
University is meant to teach students the importance of budgeting responsibilities with basic everyday routines like making time to eat, but the meal plan counters this experience for first year student on residence.
A policy that is ignorant of the ranging financial situation of the students is one that needs to be revisited.
This is not an argument against abolishing the program, as it has irrefutable perks such saving a lot of time to put towards academics, rather an awareness to unsuitable and ill-fitting standards for mandatory financial obligations for students.
It is important that incoming students as well as hospitality services understand the concerns that come with the student meal plan and work towards improving the experience and service for future students.