Suffolk County Community College isn't going to receive full credit yet for its new meal plan policy, from students or from the county legislature.
Starting this fall, the college imposed a mandatory $200-a-year meal plan fee that entitles students to $100 in food credits per semester. The college says it was necessary to get a new and improved food service provider, Aramark, on campus that would commit to providing a variety of high-quality food, such as sushi and vegetarian options. Aramark also has promised to bring national chains like Starbucks and Subway on campus. And the college says most students have embraced the meal plan, and food sales have more than doubled over past years.
It's not crazy for Aramark to want to have committed customers, but some students simply aren't going to eat its offerings, for whatever reason. And even if the new food is so much better, and so much more popular, should the students really need to be forced to buy it?
This is a one-year test and it's already underway. More than likely, students will consume an average of $6.50 a week and conclude that the mandatory plan is worth the better quality and expanded choices. If not, many will have significant balances left on their cards. The data derived from a full year of the program might better inform this debate.
Still, this shouldn't be a backdoor money-raising effort. For next year, the college's board of trustees should consider refunding balances on students' cards minus administrative fees. That might take any bad taste from this policy out of students' mouths.