Sunday, May 24

Avvalzameer Bhatia: UCLA should offer an on-campus location that accepts meal plan swipes

Students with meal plans who have back-to-back classes during the afternoon are forced to pay for a meal at an on-campus restaurant, thereby wasting the swipes they've already paid for. UCLA Dining should open a grab-and-go service on campus to let such students use their swipes off the Hill. (Daily Bruin file photo)

UCLA Dining Services is undoubtedly worthy of its rank as the best college food provider in the nation.

The university provides students with four dining halls and four quick-service joints on the Hill, all of which collectively offer a variety of cuisines from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day. But it’s too bad not all students with meal plans are able to enjoy UCLA Dining meals during busy days on campus.

Residents on the Hill can purchase meal plans, which allow them to get food by swiping into any UCLA Dining facility using their BruinCards. Depending on whether or not a student receives financial aid, the plans cost between $2,808 to $4,039 per quarter, and provide 11, 14 or 19 meals per week. UCLA Dining offers these meal swipes as part of premier meal plans, which allow residents to carry over their unused swipes from week to week, or as regular plans, which provide a set number of meals per week.

Students clearly have plenty of UCLA Dining options on the Hill. But those with meal plans are unable to use their swipes to get food off the Hill because campus restaurants, many of which are managed by Associated Students UCLA, do not allow meal plan swipes as a payment method. Many Hill residents who spend large amounts of time on campus consequently end up wasting their swipes because they are forced to pay for food on campus when they have back-to-back classes or other on-campus activities.

UCLA Dining should create a grab-and-go station on campus that allows students to use their meal plan swipes to quickly grab food in between their campus activities. It can do this by nominally increasing the prices of its meal plans while coordinating with ASUCLA to develop a quick-service meal station at a convenient campus location.

The lack of a UCLA Dining service on campus is inconvenient in several ways. Students already pay a hefty amount for meal plans, and eating on campus means some of them have plenty of meal swipes left at the end of each quarter. The cost of eating on campus while paying for a UCLA Dining meal plan inevitably increases the cost of attending university as a whole.

Anahita Sehgal, a second-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said she is forced to spend about $20 a week on food – an amount she tries not to exceed because of how expensive campus food can be.

“Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I’m on campus from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” Sehgal said. “My schedule does not allow me to go back to the Hill to get food and I end up (eating on campus), despite having a meal plan.”

Sanah Mehta, a second-year business economics and global studies student, also said she doesn’t have time to go back to the Hill to eat.

“I have classes from 8 a.m to 5 p.m., and it does not make sense for me to come back to the Hill to eat,” Mehta said. “I end up eating food at a restaurant or cafe on campus and wasting my meal plan swipes.”

UCLA spokesperson Alison Hewitt said UCLA Dining used to offer a meal swipe voucher program called the Meal Numeration Coupon Program. This program allowed students to use their meal plan swipes at on-campus restaurants and cafes for a marginal discount. She said was not sure whether the service is still offered.

As of 2016, students could use the Meal Numeration Coupon Program to trade a swipe for a $2.45 discount for on-campus food options. However, this is a rather one-sided deal, given one meal swipe is worth an entire meal. A $2.45 discount is barely enough to fully cover the cost of coffee on campus, let alone a proper meal. UCLA Dining needs to explore better options to serve students with meal plans.

Of course, opening a large-scale dining hall on campus would be problematic, since there is little available space on campus, and it would be unrealistically expensive for UCLA Dining to construct and staff a full dining hall. A grab-and-go location would therefore be the most practical way to provide students with an opportunity to get food on campus while using their swipes.

UCLA Dining could work with ASUCLA to construct a grab-and-go location in Ackerman Union. The service could offer options similar to those at the grab-and-go stops on the Hill, such as sandwiches, salads and parfaits. UCLA Dining could partially fund this venture by somewhat increasing meal plan rates to cover the costs of constructing and operating the grab-and-go location. Raising rates would probably not discourage students from purchasing meal plans because they would appreciate the chance to use swipes both on the Hill and on campus.

Both Sehgal and Mehta said they would be willing to pay a little extra for their meal plans if they could use swipes to get food on campus.

Several ASUCLA directors did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A grab-and-go location on campus is the easiest way to ensure busy Bruins are able to enjoy the best college food in the nation during long days on campus.

Opinion columnist

Bhatia is an Opinion columnist.

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