Meal plans are an important aspect of the college experience for many Mississippi State University students. Freshmen are automatically enrolled in a meal plan at the start of the year, while commuters and upperclassmen are encouraged to enroll in a plan at the start of each semester. For many students, a meal plan gives students access to many food options.
According MSU Restoration Services, seven unique meal plans are available to college students, but freshmen can only choose three. Prices for these meal plans range from hundreds to thousands of dollars and are a two-semester commitment.
The current meal plan system has been part of the MSU experience for over a decade. Enhancements to the original Meal Plan took place in 2010, allowing students to use Block Meals at various outlets on campus. Since then, the meal plan system has remained relatively the same and has not grown to meet current student demands. It needs improvements.
Block meals are passes to enter any cafeteria on campus and are included with all meal plans except the Flex plan. They can be used at various outlets on campus for a $6.58 meal voucher credit. However, meal matching can only be used at certain times at specific restaurants, and not even for a full meal, which typically costs upwards of $6.58, which discourages many students from using the program. .
While Block Meals can be used at any time of the day in cafeterias, the meal equivalent can only be redeemed twice a day, once from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and then again after 9 p.m. most restaurants are already closed. The restriction is inconvenient for many students, most of whom are on campus and near restaurants during the day due to classes, hours before the meal matching period begins.
On-campus outlets like Chick-fil-A, Subway, and Einstein Bros. Bagels are busiest during lunch. Many students queuing at this time have meal plans and would like to be able to use the meal equivalency to pay for a portion of their meals. Allowing students to use the Meal Equivalent more times throughout the day will allow for greater flexibility in using meal plans.
Meal plans can become even more flexible with more places students can use their meal plans by partnering with local restaurants and foodservices. According Auburn Tiger Dinner, Auburn University has 30 restaurants and seven different food trucks that accept their meal plan. Meanwhile, according to Vanderbilt University catering service website, students can use their “commodore money” at select partner restaurants in Nashville, TN. If MSU could foster a similar connection with Starkville restaurants, students might have more options, both on and off campus.
MSU has the opportunity to expand its dining locations integrated into its meal plans by implementing systems similar to those above. Local restaurants and food trucks can be included in meal plans and provide students with the opportunity to try various restaurants in Starkville. With improvements to the meal plan system, MSU could improve the dining experience for many of its students by allowing for greater flexibility and options in plans.