By Tommy Gagliano
College is a scam. You pay an absurd amount of money to pretend to pay attention in classes for five days a week, get shitfaced the remaining two days, and repeat. Over and over again, week after week, for four years. It’s an incredible waste of time and money, but society has you convinced that it’s worth receiving that piece of paper in the end, even though only 27% of college graduates have jobs related to their major (The Washington Post). I’m sure most college students disagree with me on this, or else they wouldn’t be here. Admittedly, I am exaggerating when I say college is a scam. Merriam-Webster defines a scam as “a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation.” When you pay for college, you know what you’re getting for your money, and there is (for the most part) no dishonesty or deception on the part of the university. However, there is one aspect of attending college at Binghamton University that absolutely fits the definition of “scam.”
I’m talking, of course, about Binghamton’s meal plans. Students that live on campus are required to purchase a resident meal plan. These resident meal plans are composed of two parts – dining dollars and membership fee. There are six plans, labelled Plan A – Plan F, but all six plans are actually the exact same thing. They range in price from $2,072/semester to $2,766/semester. However, all six meal plans have a $1,595/semester membership fee. The money you spend that does not go towards the membership fee is available to be spent at dining locations on campus in the form of “dining dollars.” Once you pay the membership fee, you can add as many dining dollars as you would like to your meal plan, so getting a bigger plan is pointless and is just a way to trick students into committing to give more money to the university. The standard meal plan that most students have is Plan C. Plan C costs $2,505/semester, with $1,595 covering the membership fee and $910 available to spend.
The only benefits of having a meal plan are that you do not have to pay sales tax, and food purchased at the four dining halls (and only the dining halls, Marketplace, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, etc. are not included) are 45% cheaper. Even with these supposed benefits, you still end up paying significantly more with a meal plan than if you just bought all of your meals with cash or a credit card. Let’s assume you’re an average Binghamton student with Plan C, and that the $910 lasts you all semester with no money left over. Let’s also assume you have no taste buds and never get tired of eating the same shitty food over and over again, so you only eat at the dining halls. Since you have the Plan C meal plan, food for the semester costs you $910 dining dollars, or $2,505 actual dollars after you take the membership fee into account. If you had purchased the same food, but paid with cash or other non-meal plan methods, it would have cost you $1,769 (after sales tax). Congrats, you just wasted $736! The amount of money you throw away increases if you like to eat at the Marketplace, get coffee from Starbucks, or go to any of the other food locations on campus that aren’t discounted. In order for the discounts to outweigh the membership fee and actually make the meal plan worth it, you would have to spend $1,700 dining dollars in one semester (which I’m not sure is even possible), and again that’s if you eat only at the dining halls.
Binghamton University’s attempt to justify this on binghamton.sodexomyway.com is quite hilarious. They boast about how convenient it is to be able to use one card to pay for all of your meals, as if credit/debit cards don’t exist. They also promote the “different types of dining experiences” offered on campus, and how Binghamton has “food to fit your mood and lifestyle,” which does not make sense because all of these “dining experiences” also accept other forms of payment. But hey, at least your balance rolls over from one semester to the next. “We already stole hundreds of dollars from you every semester with our ‘membership fees,” but we let you carry over the dining dollars you didn’t spend to your next semester! Aren’t we so nice?” And as if these attempts at justification weren’t insulting enough, they include the most pathetic and misleading chart I have ever seen at the bottom of the page, to show the “significant discounts” you get with a resident meal plan. The chart compares prices for bagels, tomato soup, and chicken fingers. The problem is, instead of comparing the price of these items with and without a meal plan, it compares the “resident price” of these foods at a dining hall to the “retail price” at Einstein Bros Bagels, Gardentoss, and Tully’s University. It would be fine if the purpose of it was to try to convince people to eat at dining halls or something, but they present it as “evidence” of why meal plans are beneficial, which is incredibly dishonest. You can’t compare a chicken finger basket at the dining hall to chicken fingers from Tully’s! They are two completely different things! Imagine if Walmart tried to sell a coupon book that offered half-off coupons for clothing to people by saying “With these coupons you can buy a plain white Walmart t-shirt for $4! That’s a great deal because a t-shirt from Gucci costs $600! Buy our coupon book now! It’s only $1,595!” (Note: The website has changed since this article was originally published in May of 2018 and no longer features this ridiculous comparison.)
Now all of this begs the question: what can I do to avoid wasting my money? If you live on campus, the answer is simple – nothing. Unless you live in Hillside or Susquehanna, residents are required to purchased a meal plan, and from the university’s perspective, that’s the most genius part of the scam. They come up with a system to steal hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars per semester from each student and try to hide and justify it by offering 45% discounts and making ridiculous charts. Even if someone figures it all out, it doesn’t matter because you have to buy it anyway. Your only escape is to live off-campus. Not only will you save on food, but you’ll also cut your cost of housing in half. But I suppose that’s a topic for another day.