Suffolk County Community College for the first time will impose a mandatory $200-a-year meal plan fee that officials say will cost students a total of $2.4 million but give the commuter school's students a wider variety of food choices from national restaurant chains such as Starbucks and Chick-fil-A.

The fee will go into effect in September for the 12,000 students on Selden and Brentwood campuses taking nine credits or more per semester. They will be able to use their college ID as a swipe card for food and vending machines starting in September, and college officials said they expected a positive reaction. This plan does not include the Riverhead campus.

The idea for a mandatory meal fee was put forward by Aramark Education Services LLC during the college's request-for-proposals process. The company, which provides food service at 2,200 colleges and schools nationwide as well as national parks, was selected over the existing vendor and another bidder. But some criticized the fee.

DataSearch college endowments

"I had complaints from more than a half-dozen constituents saying they don't intend to use the food service and don't think they should be forced to pay a mandatory fee," said Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore). "What's happening is the desires of some are being subsidized by the financial resources of others."

The new fee and the revenue that officials say will help attract national chains come after student complaints about service and selection of the exiting vendor, Dover Hospitality Services Inc. of Freeport. The college is embroiled in a dispute with Dover over nonpayment of about $160,000 in fees dating to 2009. Dover did not return calls for comment.

The college expects to net $110,000 in revenue from the first year of Aramark's five-year contract and double the amount in the second year, when Starbucks and Chick-fil-A will have been operating for a full year, officials say.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

But critics noted the new meal fee is higher than the tuition increase of $180 for full-time students for the coming school year. College officials last spring lobbied heavily for more county funding to lessen the tuition hike, citing needs of lower-income students.

College officials said they have received more than 50 emails expressing concern about the fee, including 30 asking why the meal plan isn't optional. "I had two other kids who went there and they never had that policy," said a Deer Park father who is preparing to send another child to SCC. "Eating on campus was never an issue because we live five minutes away," said the father, who declined to be identified. "It's like taking a hundred dollars a semester and throwing it away."

Gail Vizzini, SCC's fiscal vice president, said, "The meal plan is mandatory to assure that there is a sufficient sales volume on the part of the students to justify the vendor's risk in providing the high level of services."

Nassau Community College has no meal fee nor plans to implement one, said spokeswoman Alicia Steger. Nassau has a food court with national brands including Pizza Hut, Nathan's and Taco Bell.