The cost of university dining-hall meal plans has risen by 47 percent since 2007. What’s driving up the price of food at college? As facilities respond to the demand for a substantial increase in the quality and variety of food, some students find themselves in financial straits. Often required as a condition of on-campus residence, meal plans are steadily crawling toward being prohibitively expensive.

(@wellesleyfresh/Insta)
Pear carpaccio served with golden raisins and tangy spinach salad at a Wellesley College dining hall. (Photo: @wellesleyfresh/Instagram.) 

According to a report by Time, some campuses take this trend to the extreme, which comes as a detriment to those who can’t afford premium cafeteria food. At Wellesley College, for example, one day’s menu might offer spaghetti squash with pesto and pine nuts, cinnamon beef tagine and Niman Ranch ham from a carving station, or an international dumpling dinner featuring 16 options.

Acquiring a taste for new, healthy foods is key to developing good eating habits, and one might argue that meal plans allow students to maximize their studying time. But let’s be real: Learning to buy groceries and cook in an under-equipped space on a budget is as valuable a skill as any. Instead, the demand — largely from those not receiving financial assistance — for a restaurant-quality selection has pushed the price of the average American college meal plan up to $22 per day. The cost for sous vide circulators, wood-fired pizza ovens and specialized labor is passed down to all students, regardless of their expectations for on-campus food.

For those with hefty loans and limited discretionary funds, impractical dining options serve as a reminder of the wide gap between college students from the top-earning families in America and those from the bottom 60 percent.