Meal plans not such a scam


by Jessica Savage

Simpson’s meal-plan prices and policies – long the target of complaints from students who claim they’re too pricey and restrictive – are comparable with other private colleges in Iowa, a Simpsonian study has found.

Central, Coe, Cornell, Luther and Wartburg – comparable to Simpson in enrollment and tuition and room-and-board costs – all require full-time students who live on campus to purchase a meal plan. The size of the meal plans, the options and the prices vary with each school.

“We still require students in apartments and theme houses to have meal plans so that we bring students back on campus,” said Ken Birkenholtz, Simpson’s vice president for business and finance. “The campus experience is as fully important as the classroom experience.”

The Simpsonian study found that Simpson’s charges for meal plans rank in the middle of the six schools on the comparison list. Luther and Wartburg have more flexible options for students on their meal plans.

The Simpson plan

Simpson is charging full-time students $2,777 this year for a 20-meal-per-week plan, the highest-priced on the school’s menu. That compares with a high of $3,085 for a 20-meal plan at Cornell College in Mount Vernon and a low of $2,045 for 20 meals per week at Luther College in Decorah.

Birkenholtz said the Simpson meal plans are designed to encourage students who are not living in a traditional dormitory to stay on campus for their meals.

Students living in Kappa Theta Psi fraternity and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority are required to have 20-, 14- or 12-meal plans. Lesser meal plans have never been made available to members of Greek houses, Birkenholtz said.

“I can’t believe I am still required to have a full meal plan,” said Simpson sophomore, Kate Oltrogge. “We [at Kappa Kappa Gamma] have a full-service kitchen with a freezer, a refrigerator, a stove, two ovens, a microwave, a dishwasher, and two sinks. Yet I still have to eat at Pfieffer.

“It’s a waste of money for me because I probably only eat five meals a week at Pfieffer anyway,” Oltrogge said. “I feel I am getting the bad end of the deal.”

The six-meal plan costs students $1,302 per year and gives students “flex” money that can be spent at the Storm Street Grill in Brenton Student Center. That plan is the minimum required for students living in college-owned apartments and theme houses. Students living off campus can also choose to buy the six-meal plan.

Other Iowa Colleges

Details of the meal plans at other schools show that some have more attractive programs than Simpson, while others offer higher prices and fewer options:

>> Central College in Pella has 1,495 full-time and part-time students enrolled , compared to Simpson’s 1,912 according to the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Central dining hall is not contracted out to a company, it is run by the college. They offer two meal plans — 20 meals for $2,798 and 14 meals for $2,598. Central and Simpson’s prices are very close, though Central runs its own dining hall and has fewer students enrolled.

>> Coe College in Cedar Rapids has similar meal plan options. Coe, who is run by Sodexho Dining Services, has an enrollment of 1,301. Coe offers a 19-meal plan for $2,870, a 15-meal plan for $2,770, and a 10-meal plan for $2,660. Prices are slightly higher than at Simpson, and Coe has a lower enrollment.

>> Cornell College in Mount Vernon charges a higher price for meal plans than Simpson. Sodexho Dining Services runs Cornell’s dining hall as well. They offer a 20-meal plan for $3,085, a 14-meal plan for $3,085 which includes a system comparable to having flex money for the Grill, and a 7-meal plan for $1,490.

Cornell has only 987 students enrolled.

The two comparison colleges larger than Simpson have cheaper options with more variety provided to their students. Luther College has an enrollment of 2,621 and Wartburg has an enrollment of 1,600.

A menu of options

>> At Luther College in Decorah, the dining hall is run by the college and offers one board price with five different options. For $2,040, students can choose a 20-meal plan, a 14-meal plan with $80 dining cash, a 14-meal plan with $60 nordicash, a 10-meal plan and $150 dining cash, or a 10-meal plan and $110 dining cash. Dining cash can be used anytime to purchase extra meals at the dining hall. Nordicash is money students can use at their coffee shop or small restaurant.

Simpson’s 20 meal plan is about $700 more and students have only 20 regular meals.

>> Wartburg College in Waverly independently runs its dining hall and offers one meal plan – 20 meals for $2,400. This is similar to Luther’s program and is almost $400 less expensive than Simpson. However, Wartburg students have the option to “pick” their meals. A student may decide to use the option of Pick 15, where he or she can eat any 15 meals per week and get 86 points for the term. These points can be used to buy meals or snacks. There are four “pick” options – Pick 15, Pick 12 with 150 points, Pick 10 with 301 points or the Pick 5. With the Pick 5 plan, students do not pay regular board; they pay $530 and receive 50 points.

“I have the Pick 15. Because I have that meal plan, I get 86 ‘points’ at the beginning of each semester. That really comes in handy because they can be used in the Konditorei (coffee shop in the library) or in the Den (restaurant),” said Wartburg sophomore Allison Kuball.

“Basically, the points are just like dollars. Sometimes [the points] come in handy, but if you use all of your points up that’s it. If you don’t use them all up by the end of the semester, they are added as credit onto your tuition bill,” Kuball said.

Wartburg is the only college to refund points or money back to the student at the end of the term.

Reasoning the costs

“Typically our cost is based on the assumption that students will use all of their money [at the Grill],” said Birkenholtz. “We encourage students to use all of their money.”

He said that most schools do not refund money because it’s more work than it is worth.

“I think we should get our money back. If we don’t spend it on food, we should get it back,” said sophomore Henry Peterson.

Simpson’s student body president, Junior Jake Abel examined each comparison school’s meal-plan options and said he sees reason to Simpson’s meal plans.

“I think [Simpson’s meal plan prices] are comparable to other schools,” Abel said. ” I don’t see us getting ripped off but I see the differences in facilities and options at Luther. They have more dining options.”

Abel also said that he would like to see a more permanent coffee shop and another sit down place to eat. Student Senate has been looking into a new student union for the future with the possibility of putting an eating establishment there.

While Senate considers such new facilities, Pfieffer dining hall was given a major makeover last summer.

Birkenholtz said that Simpson wanted to open up the facility and get more light in the room. The new facility also offers new menus to choose from and different food options. He felt the overall atmosphere has improved.

Part of the success of the dining hall, according to Birkenholtz, is because Simpson contracts the facility to Sodexho Dining Services.

“There are a lot of headaches you can avoid by hiring a company,” said Birkenholtz. “They have the resources to answer questions and information and sources available that we don’t have or financially can’t support.”