Opinion: Campus living costs prohibit equal educational opportunity

For many students and parents, finances play an important role in choosing a college. Meal plans are required for freshmen on campus, and they are encouraged for upper division students living in residence halls.

For an in-state undergraduate student, basic tuition, on-campus housing, and meals cost about $25,108 per year without scholarships. If the meal plan were not imposed on students, the University would be accessible to more of them.

The meal plan problem is further compounded by the difficulty for students to be exempt from the requirement. Under Meal Plan Exemption Form 2021-22, students must obtain confirmation from their physician or spiritual advisor that they “believe the student would be harmed if they participated in the required meal plan” for ASU to consider their request for exemption.

Food and housing insecurity is a very common problem that many people face. An October 2021 report from the Arizona Board of Regents Student Food and Housing Insecurity Task Force found that food and housing insecurity can impact higher levels of education, and that students’ lives and education can be negatively affected due to the burden of these insecurities.

The same study included surveys indicating that 25% to 50% of students experienced these difficulties. It makes sense that ASU would offer housing and food plans to prevent these insecurities, but when do the financial disadvantages outweigh the benefits of having housing and food available in the first place?

The median household income in Arizona is $61,529, and ASU housing and dining can cost up to 21% of that amount. In addition to tuition, $12,393, ASU can cost campus residents up to approximately $27,000. With a median income of around $30,000 after bills, this makes ASU unaffordable for most.

The median household income in Arizona, $61,529 at the 2020 census, is not enough to pay for tuition, on-campus housing, and meal plans, even at the residential rate of around $25,108. With food and housing insecurity affecting 39% and 46% of college students nationwide, respectively, according to the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, it’s clear that ASU rates aren’t meeting the majority of residents. .

ASU should offer scholarships that can be applied directly to these living expenses, especially given the University’s claims that “living at ASU fosters creative connections and innovation…designed for you prepare for success”.

Aramark, the company contracted by the University to provide dining facilities, has been a concern among ASU students for some time, as the company maintains a history of unethical concerns. This brings up another issue with the meal plan — it forces students on campus to pay unethical companies they don’t want to support.

So why is this company still on campus, and moreover, why is it compulsory for many students on campus at unreasonable prices?

“I chose to go off the meal plan in the first half of freshman year…It was a lot cheaper to walk and shop instead and I had better options too,” said Sarah Taut, a junior biochemistry student. “(The meal waiver) wasn’t too difficult, … but I heard they gave other people in the same situation as me a hard time.”

Personally, it took me a month to constantly contact accommodation and food services to get a response to my waiver. I stated my case several times, but my reasoning being that the food upset my stomach was not enough for the University to exempt me from the requirement.

Since being off the meal plan, both Taut and I have seen improvements in our health and finances.

“My budget probably improved the most (and) getting off a meal plan would have improved (health issues) anyway since I didn’t have a good reaction to the food when I ate it “Taut said.

While it’s unclear if ASU’s dining hall food is unhealthy, it’s well known that students tend to make unhealthy food choices in college due to a lack of food. healthy options.

It seems that the University’s pride in living on campus is unreasonable for the most part, which prohibits equal educational opportunity for students on and off campus. If ASU truly enjoyed campus life as much as it says it does, it would make housing affordable and provide financial assistance for it. It is more affordable to buy and cook your own food as opposed to the sheer convenience of dining halls.

For perspective, the average college student in Arizona spends about $207 a month on groceries. With meal plans lasting around four months and the traditional plan priced at $2,840 per semester, students pay around $710 per month. That’s more than three times the average amount of groceries.

Overall, ASU needs to make housing and dining options more affordable by subsidizing costs through scholarships or getting rid of the forced meal plan altogether.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are those of the author and do not imply any endorsement by The State Press or its editors.

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