Can UMass Dining Reduce Meal Plan Prices and Remain Competitive?

Apr 28, 2018 · 4 min read
“The Best College Campus Food in America.” https://www.tastingtable.com/dine/national/best-college-campus-dining-princeton-review-umass

The one thing UMass Amherst can pride itself on is its campus dining. For the past couple years, UMass Amherst has topped the Princeton Review’s ranking for Best Campus Food. A notable feat. Yet, as tuition and fees rise, meal plans are increasingly becoming unaffordable, especially for low income students. A recent national study found that 36 percent of college students are food insecure.

Could UMass make meal plans more affordable, while still ensuring high quality service?

I looked at the top eight colleges on the Princeton Review’s ranking and found the colleges’ meal plan price. I chose the lowest annual cost meal plan that would be eligible to a first-year student. Thus, this analysis does not take into account the perks of each plan (such as the amount of meals available to a student per week).

From the table above the average cost of a meal plan per year is $5,187.50 and has a standard deviation of $1,129.63. The IQR is $700.5. Since, the IQR*1.5 + Q3 is less than the price of a meal plan at Bowdoin College, it could be declared an outlier. And since Q1-IQR*1.5 is more than the price of a meal plan at Virginia Tech, it could be declared an outlier too.

After removing Bowdoin College and Virginia Tech:

The adjusted average annual cost of a meal plan changes to $5082.33 with a standard deviation of $305.19.

UMass Amherst is above the average by about $314.

Since there are only a small number of schools that I chose to include, it’s not possible to draw a definitive conclusion on the relationship between rank and meal price. However, judging from the top six schools, there may be some room for UMass Amherst to cut meal plan prices (the distribution of the spending cuts is uncertain) and have the best dining program in the country.

Yet, UMass Amherst does not need to go down this path to make meal plans more affordable. In fact, students could pay less out-of-pocket for meal plans without compromising any aspects of UMass Dining’s budget. This would be done through greater state funding. Not only can tuition be eliminated through state house appropriations, but meal plans can be heavily subsidized (especially for low income students) or perhaps be eliminated too.

UPDATE: 4/20/2019

Here is the one year update of the prior analysis:

I again look at the top eight colleges and universities in Princeton Review’s Best Campus Food ranking. I again look at the lowest cost plan available to a first year student. I do not look at the differences between the quality of the plans.

The average here $5,360.75 with a standard deviation of $1,181.52. I again give the same IQR treatment to eliminate the outliers as shown above.Like before, Bowdoin and Virginia Tech, which are ranked #2 and #3 respectively this year, are eliminated.

After removing Bowdoin and Virginia Tech:

The adjusted annual average is now $5,241 with a standard deviation of $323.57.

UMass is once more above the adjusted average by $317 compared to $314 last year.

Since last year the adjusted average meal plan cost for all units increased by three percent. For UMass Amherst the adjusted average meal plan cost increased by three percent. Thus, UMass Amherst’s meal plan cost increase does not seem to deviate with other comparable dining programs, though its most accessible meal plan currently is still over three hundred dollars above the average.

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