Alabama Students Fight Mandatory Meal Plans

Should universities be able to force students to buy meal plans for the cafeteria? Alabama students are suing to end the practice.

Should universities be able to force students to buy meal plans for the cafeteria?  Students at Alabama, Auburn, and UAB are suing to end the practice.

“These fees are not tuition and not related to class instruction,” attorney John F. Whitaker of Whitaker, Mudd, Simms, Luke & Wells said in a statement. “Instead, these food fees are mandated because these state schools have agreed to give certain food vendors exclusive control over these student food purchases in exchange for millions of dollars being paid back to the school. The students themselves are given no option.”


“In these tough economic times, students and families struggle to sustain the cost of higher education,” the statement reads. “Many are using loans, work study and minimum-wage jobs to finance their education. They need not be further burden(ed) by being forced to enrich (food vendors) using the state power of a public university.”

According to Deedie Dowdle, AU executive director of communications and marketing, Auburn priced the plans “at less than half what students were spending on dining a day, realizing they would want to eat beyond campus as well.”

“Dining on campus provides a valuable social support network and contributes to student success by providing convenience between classes and late-night study breaks, without the worry of leaving campus and finding a parking spot,” Dowdle said in a statement.

At Auburn, the cheapest plan available for on-campus students is $995 per semester and those who live off campus must pay $300.    That’s pretty cheap for three months of hot meals.

But why should the university force students to pay for meals they may not want?  Let alone state universities?

Presumably, the mandatory meal plans allow the vendor to plan more efficiently and help keep the costs down for those who want to eat in the campus dining facility.   But that’s not a compelling enough government interest to force adult students to fork over a thousand bucks.

Then again, universities get away with charging hundreds of dollars in athletic fees to support sports teams that most of them likely don’t care about.  Surely, incentivizing them to eat something other than pizza and Ramen noodles is more in line with their charter than that?

via Inside Higher Ed

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. J.W. Hamner says:

    Honestly, I presume it’s to make sure the kids don’t starve to death after they blow all their food money on beer the first month of the semester.

    However, I can see the argument that that decision should be up to the parents/students, and not mandated by the university.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    What about the fees charged to support various clubs and organizations the students don’t support either. The tyranny of higher ed is appalling.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:

    While I agree that the sports fees/activity fees are the same in principle as the mandatory meal plans, the cost is widely different.

    At Purdue, my alma matter, the cheapest meal plan cost $800 a semester, or $1,600 a year. The sports fee was $40 a semester, and the student activity fee was $15 a semester. A proposed “green” fee that would be used to make facilities more energy efficient was $5 a semester.

    The principle may be the same, but the cost is so widely different that its hard to apply the same argument.

  4. tom p says:

    >>>The tyranny of higher ed is appalling.<<<<<<<<<

    Sorry Steve, but don't like it? Don't go. Hardly reaches the level of tyranny.

  5. Trumwill says:

    I don’t mind mandatory meal plans *if* the meals are provided for the convenience of students. What drove me crazy is that on one hand they would demand hundreds of dollars a semester on a meal plan and then on the other they would cut hours and locations depending on what was and was not profitable. If this were required for profitability, I would understand. But if you can’t make money on a campus with tens of thousands of students and faculty spending all day mostly without access to their cars (wouldn’t want to lose your parking space), either you’re a moron or the university is charging too much for the space.

    I suspect it’s the latter. So the end result is that they have to pay the university gobs of money and so that they can make a profit they have to charge you gobs of money. It’s simply a way for the university to get money without it looking like it’s getting money.

    What drove me crazy is that my alma mater had a mandatory meal plan but did not have