Student Life

RPI mandates unlimited meal plan for first-year students

The new unlimited meal plan, available for all students, replaces the 19 on-demand plan as the mandate for residential first-year students. The unlimited meal plan costs $7,270 a year and credits students with both $150 in Flex Dollars and an unlimited number of meal swipes.

According to Director of Auxiliary Services Michael Ramella, the unlimited meal plan was created to “provide value and ease of use for first year students” by eliminating the problem of “[first year] students chang[ing] meal plans and struggl[ing] to figure out which [one] accommodate[s] their needs best” thereby allowing “students [to] concentrate on getting acclimated to Rensselaer and academics.” Ramella explained that the plan allows students flexibility in choosing when to eat while eliminating the worry of meal swipe allocation. Student feedback is taken into consideration annually.

RPI’s Meal swipes can only be used at one of RPI’s buffet-style dining halls whereas RPI’s ''Flex dollars'' can additionally be used at any place on-campus which accepts it such as Ben & Jerry’s, Father’s Marketplace, or Moe’s Southwest Grill. With the mandated unlimited meal plan, however, freshmen are primarily relegated to relying on RPI’s dining halls for food, which raises concerns of variety and accessibility. Ramella responded to these concerns saying that “[all] residential dining halls provide ample selections and the menus are written to include as much variety as possible… students receive multiple different cuisines and style [options] at each meal period.” Ramella also stated that the Commons Dining Hall will be open until 11 pm.

The Poly interviewed several rising sophomores on their views of the new meal plan. Some agreed that the new meal plan is beneficial for new students adjusting to college. Gabriel Jacoby-Cooper ’24 described the plan as having “the potential to be a good measure for getting the freshmen to congregate together for meals so that they can connect socially…[and to better] adapt to some of the logistics of day-to-day college life. I can see how some people might be upset about the lack of choice in their first year, but it’s not that big of a deal.”

Jessica Wurms ’24 described a perceived lack of student agency, saying “depriving the incoming freshmen of any choice regarding their meal plan is completely unnecessary…[and limits] their choices of when and what to eat.” Wurms added that “with the strict mealtimes in the dining halls, students can easily miss their window to eat if they have a class or other event to attend…if freshmen must be assigned a meal plan rather than choosing for themselves, it should be one that allows them more agency in when and where they can eat.”

Similarly, others highlighted that the one-size-fits-all nature of the plan increases financial burdens among incoming students. Chris Mills ’24 said that “no college student is eating more than 15 or so meals a week; anything more than that is unnecessary and is just meant to take more money from worried parents.”

When presented with the concern of cost, Ramella stated that “[Auxiliary Services staff] have not heard that feedback from any first year families…[and] the cost of the unlimited meal plan is included in the projected cost of attendance that is made available to all accepted students... the unlimited nature of the plan hopefully makes the value to students exceed the cost of the plan.”