Dining Dollars have hidden cost

Letter to the Editor

Every semester, new people appear on campus. These collegiate newbies go around swiping their magical card that does everything from opening doors to dispensing between-class snacks and allowing you to fill the void of not having their Caramel Frappucino every morning.

That is, until October, when the miraculous card seems to lose its mojo. You’re out of Dining Dollars. Why?

The food on campus is ridiculously overpriced. The price to get in the dining halls makes a little sense because it is buffet style dining, but for the remainder of the food, it is absolutely outrageous.

Take Buffalo Phil’s in Burke, for example. Five chicken tenders and a medium serving of fries with tax runs about fifteen cents short of $13 (a $2 increase from last semester). In comparable restaurants (e.g. Chick-fil-a, Guthrie’s and Zaxby’s), you can get 5 chicken tenders, a “large” serving of fries, one or two sides and a large drink for under $9.

Not only is there less food for more money at Phil’s, but the quality of the food also shares the same negative correlation with the cost. When I can eat one of their alleged chicken tenders in one bite without trying, there’s a problem.

Dining Dollars are mandatory for all undergraduates with nine or more credit hours.

There is an exemption form, but the only options for exemption are married, head of household, and other. There is no “I can spend my money more wisely” option.

It would be a somewhat different situation if it were money that the University graciously provided, but it’s my money. I’m forced to put $300 on my ACTion Card and spend it at only a select number of establishments.

Three hundred dollars per semester breaks down to $2.67 a day. Let’s say I use $2.10 to buy bottled water and a pack of crackers once a day on my way to class. This leaves me $8.19 for the weekend. Enough for chicken tenders? Not quite.

I know the reason from a business standpoint. People are more likely to spend when money is not in a tangible form (paper versus plastic), as well as when they have an, “I have to have Dining Dollars, why not spend them?” mindset.

The University wants to make money, but why should students have to choose between cost and convenience? Especially when, due to the obligatory nature of the Dining Dollars system, it’s a choice they’re forced to make.

I am a music student. I’m at the Moody Music building more often than at home (including sleep). Where should I eat? Buffalo Phil’s is my closest option. Can’t do that, I’ve already eaten there my one allotted time this week. I’ll go to the other side of campus. After a long day, Moody is to Lakeside as America is to China (geographically speaking, of course).

The only other option on campus? Dining Dollars. The same situation goes for any students living in New Hall, Burke, Tutweiler, Bryce Lawn or any of the dorms on the south side of campus. Should they have to trek across campus after 8:30 p.m. just to be able to use the meal plan they’re paying more than $1,200 a semester for?

The fact remains that students will take whatever means necessary to fill their rumbly tumblys. If that means spending more money because their eating costs are higher than that of a frugal married couple, then so be it.

We, as students are completely powerless when it comes to our on campus dining options. We have to trust the state of Alabama’s flagship university to allow students on every edge of this campus to have the same, wholesome, filling, economically light meal as the next person.

Our paid tuition says that we are committed to our part of the deal. It’s the University’s turn to bat.

Nicholas Boyd is a senior majoring in saxophone performance.