“Meal plans are convenient, flexible, and loaded with options,” according to Baylor’s dining website. The reality is many students are not always guaranteed value or options due to misaligned scheduling and option availability.
Meal plans for the general student population (undergraduate and non-student athlete) give you dining dollars to use at campus restaurants and cafés as well as “swipes” to use in the residential dining halls. There’s a conflict, however, when students can’t take full advantage and get their full value of the promises of their $835.63 (“the light eater 3”) to $2,991.56 (“the everyday 150”) meal plan when dining halls aren’t full-service during the times or open during the day when students need to eat.
There are 10 meal plan options for students to choose from to find what best fits their financial or daily life: four residential dining halls and 11 small alternative options that are café or fast food style with varying hours (understandably so, as they are mostly chain companies). While there are numerous options, students who pay for the buffet-style dining experience are restricted to the four residential dining halls.
The Penland Crossroads closes daily after breakfast at 10 a.m. and doesn’t reopen till 10:45 a.m., so students who want to grab breakfast between morning classes or eat before their first class, work shift or meeting are denied access inside the dining hall to eat even if other students are still in there from when it was open. That window of time may have been their only opportunity unless they want to spend dining dollars or cash at a fast food option on campus, but that is extra money outside of the pre-purchsed meal swipes that the student should not have to spend. A similar issue arises when The Penland Crossroads and the East Village Dining Commons close from 3 p.m. till 5 p.m. That may be when classes get out for a student and he or she finally has the option to eat, but midday closing times restrict these options for students from the east and west sides of campus. Brooks Great Hall in the southwest corner of campus has even bigger gaps of access being closed from 10 a.m. till 11 a.m. and again from 2 p.m. till 5 p.m.
While there is 1845 at Memorial —the only all-student dining hall to remain open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. — it is on the most south edge of campus, but the majority of the food options aren’t out during non-peak mealtimes. Typically pizza, salad bar and sandwich and burger station leftovers are available during these non-peak times, but students who are paying the same amount of money for a full-service meal plan aren’t getting what they paid for if these are their only options when they have the availability to eat.
The special entrees that dining halls promote are only available during specific time frames during the day, so students who can’t get there for stir-fry or mashed potatoes have to settle for a burger and fries just because they can’t get out of class earlier to take advantage of these options provided to other patrons of the same meal plans.
While it could be argued that students could just build a schedule around mealtimes, the luxury of that opportunity often isn’t available. Some students may be forced to stick with a certain section or class, or multiple, that is only offered at a specific time – thus, making many students’ academic schedules unable to be catered to when dining halls are open. Work and other obligations further limit schedule flexibility. Often a student’s lowest priority is scheduling mealtimes, because it’s the most flexible component of scheduling their day – it fits where it fits, at least ideally.
All Baylor students who pay same full price for their meal plans should be able to have equal access and opportunity to get the full value of their meal plan throughout the day at campus dining halls. Students with non-traditional mealtime oriented schedules shouldn’t be sold short of the promises of Baylor’s meal plan and dining all promises.