Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The math behind meal plans

The fine eating establishment at PBA charges more for those who buy in bulk. A loyal Bacon reader has sent in a spreadsheet detailing the difference in cost between the average meal bought by meal plan and the one bought on Flex Dollars:

The average meal from a meal plan costs $9.89, while the average meal paid for individually in cash is $8.57. With Flex Dollars, the price is even lower: $7.76.

In addition to paying more for bulk, PBA meal plans are considerably costlier than other private schools. Wheaton College in Illinois, consistently ranked among the best in the United States for on-campus dining, has an average meal plan price of $7.07. Wheaton is not served by Sodexo, but Bon Appetit Management, a California-based company. Biola University in California, also served by Bon Appetit, has an average price of $7.38.

Lower prices are also present at other universities served by Sodexo. The University of Tampa, a private university slightly larger than PBA, has an average meal plan price of $7.66. Although Sodexo does charge a price for its services, the prices are set by PBA.

We didn't know how to make this funny.


48 comments:

stuff said...

Great investigative journalism. Way to break the story!

Mark said...

Now that this information is out there, if the Beacon does not have a story about this up in the next two issues, they lose all credibility with me.

It's a worthy story, Beacon. The Bacon has done the leg work. Now just make a few phone calls and print it up.

If not, I publicly ask one of the Beacon editors to use this forum to explain why they are not publishing this story.

Max Power said...

I brought this up once with an unnamed employee of Sodexo, claiming it's unfair to charge such a high price per meal for residents who would rather provide for themselves food-wise. Her answer was that I should buy the largest meal plan.

Is it extortion to tell students required to invest in campus dining to buy the most food in order to not be overcharged per meal?

Max Power said...

Note: I understand the concept of economies of scale and that in any business products are expected to be cheaper when bought in larger quantities. However, in what type of business does the cost per unit of any bulk purchase exceed the cost of buying the units individually? The key difference here is the effect of monopoly rule in the requirement that all campus residents buy in to this system (though almost every university shares this sort of requirement).

Anonymous said...

I realized this and got my doctor to write up a note that said I did not have to eat the campus food.
It worked.

Just one of the many many things that is wrong with PBA, unfortunately.

Black Falcon said...

The way I see it, if PBA is greedy and overcharges for meals, then they will be repaid accordingly - Like enrollment going down... oh wait.

“It will generally be found that men who are constantly lamenting their ill luck are only reaping the consequences of their own neglect, mismanagement, and improvidence, or want of application.”
-Samuel Smiles

mindy sans mork said...

Another point, although the cost of food may be lower in IL than south FL it is definately equal in southern CA where Biola is located.

Max Power said...

Another note: All these numbers are calculated before tax.

Speaking of which, another issue I have found with the meal plans are that flex dollars are taxed twice when used in Common Ground and such. When a student buys a meal plan, he or she pays a sales tax on the plan itself. Then, when paying for something at Common Ground, sales tax is added to the item's cost and deducted from the student's flex balance.

A student pays $106.50 for every $100 of flex and is able to use only about $93.90 of it. Assuming these "dollars" should only be taxed once, that's a loss of about $36.62 with the 40 Block plan.

Anonymous said...

What is outrageous and also ironic is that we have "FREE ENTERPRISE DAY" yet when it comes to giving us the "choice" where to eat and giving outside markets the chance to compete for our money its a no-no.

What a crock.

Anonymous said...

You wonder where the money goes? Why the higher price for meals? The money goes to replace chairs broken by fat chicks who are eating extra cookies and cakes at every meal. It is totally justifiable.

JM said...

I had several meetings back 4 years ago when I was a student about these issues.

They just didn't seem to get the outrage of paying 11 or 12 dollars a meal every time you swipe your card when it would be much cheaper to just pay cash.

They didn't seem to think it was unfair.

Anonymous said...

And this doesn't even get to the fact that the food is crappy....

Anonymous said...

Great reporting...
Mark, here's a link to a recent opinion piece in the Beacon that touched on the topic.

http://www.pba.edu/beacon/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.detail&issueId=18&sectionId=4&content_id=320

Someone who knows. said...

Mark,

Most likely, because this story would cast PBA and Sodexo in a negative light, the Beacon would not be able to run it. Don't get me wrong; the Beacon staff would love a story like this. However, I'm pretty sure that Dean Meeks would not. Since he's the publisher and all stories must pass by him, it would not be able to run.

Maybe it will be pitched by a Beacon staffer at the meeting this Friday....

pomp romp said...

Also, anon's link goes to something about dress code.

I would like to see what the Beacon said, though.

Anonymous said...

pomp romp,

Here is the article from the beacon:


Campus Focus: the Common Ground Cafe
Published Date: February 02, 2009
by Luther Hollis

Before I fully engage in this week’s commentary, I wish to make it crystal clear that I appreciate each and every Sodexo staff member who toils endlessly in order to provide nourishment for the Palm Beach Atlantic University community; you all do a great job and “hats off to you.”

I have held back far too long regarding the PBA campus eateries. My growing disappointment began back in August when I discovered that those lovely and scrumptious chicken tenders and steak fries had disappeared from the menu. There was still the usual array of cholesterol-inducing double cheeseburgers, greasy pizzas and I think a steak fajita. I asked a Common Ground staff member why they were not offering the tasty fried foods anymore, and he said that it was determined by way of student surveys that those foods did not reflect the “healthy” lifestyle that the Green Complex promotes.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but are those double cheeseburgers, pizzas, chips or sodas any healthier than chicken tenders and curly fries? I don’t think so. By the way, I cannot stand those weird buns with all the seeds. What ever happened to having the ability to make choices?

Okay, so I faced the facts about the Common Ground chicken tenders being cut from the menu. I began trying some of the new offerings and usually settled on a salad, sub or turkey burger. The next issue that I thought about was the price of the various items. Here is a sample of current prices as listed at www.pbadining.com: sandwiches/burgers…$4.39, half sub (Boar’s Head)…$5.99, chef salad $5.99, 12 oz. serving of ice cream…$3.29, and pizzas…$4.39.

When I really look over those prices and think about the small portions that are served at the Common Ground, I feel taken advantage of. Sodexo seems to have a wonderfully organized monopoly going on. Frasier, Jazzman’s, a la Carte, and the Common Ground are, in essence, money pits for the hungry. I know students can use meal plans for their purchases and evening students also have the option to purchase meal plans; however, most evening students prefer to simply retain flex dollars on their account in order to use the vending machines and perhaps make bookstore purchases.

Evening students are not the only ones feeling the pinch of campus food pricing; I have personally asked quite a few daytime students what they think and while most utilize their meal plans, quite a few have said if they ever ran out of meal plans they would have a problem.

The last new change made in the Common Ground has ruffled even more feathers. I am actually torn on this one; the newest complaint is the fact that this new ticket-food ordering process has turned the Common Ground from fast food to slow food. I definitely appreciate the supposed reason for this new process, which is for sanitary protection.

However, I also see the student’s point; sometimes a student may not have much time and want a quick bite, but then they see this line of people waiting for orders and have to settle for a $5.99 half sub. I really do not have an issue with it, I have been going to the Subway on Belvedere Road or ordering Papa John’s pizza—they both accept the PBA card. I honestly cannot remember the last time I ordered anything at the Common Ground Cafe.

Anonymous said...

The University should not require campus-residing students to buy a meal plan. Maybe freshmen or even sophomores should be required to, but not juniors and seniors. It's ridiculous and unfair. And that bit Max Power brought up about double taxing is CRAZY.

pomp romp said...

Common Ground is expensive, but charging more for buying in bulk (and $2.00 more than comparable schools) is a lot worse. CG is bad, but the meals are theft.

pomp romp said...

And the double taxation, too.

Mark said...

Thanks for posting the letter to the editor published by the Beacon.

But that's not an article. It's a commentary. I'm asking for a hard news piece written by one of the Beacon staffers that addresses this issue. We can all write letters to the editor, and that's great.

But this story requires real journalism.

Beacon?

Gaelic Gopher said...

Well done Bacon, Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I don't think we can call those other schools comprable and compare to them when they have higher enrollments. The more students on meal plans the cheaper meal plans are... the way bulk usually works. Comparing our meal prices to theirs just because they are private schools is not adequate.

suede said...

Let's look at the approximate numbers:

PBA: 3500
Tampa: 5800
Wheaton: 2900
Biola: 4000

They're about the same. Your argument is false.

IN ADDITION, Wheaton's meal plans are OPTIONAL.

Numbers said...

Suede:
At first glance those numbers look right but I know that PBA only has about 1100 students on campus who are required to buy a meal plan.

I' assuming that only those REQUIRED to buy a meal plan would and most get the minimum required. I can't see why anyone in their right mind would pay for a meal plan if they didnt have to. Of course if they lowered the cost and made it competitive then maybe commuter students and others would get a meal plan. One of the key values of a Free Enterprise system is that the more competition the lower the prices and the better deal the consumer gets.... but who wants to stick to key values when your bottom line might be affected.

Suede said...

My response:

1. The same policy stands at the other schools (except Wheaton).

2. Of course good food would be good.

Anonymous said...

"Of course good food would be good."

Truer words have never been spoken.

rousche ftw said...

I think the biggest thing to remember here is that Joe Sixpack can walk into the caf off the street and pay less than you do for a meal in the caf.

the dude said...

good article, and a serious issue. We can try and fight to attempt to make pba look better in light of everything. I do enjoy pba, but this is a flaw that our campus has.
I agree with rousche, that is the point.

Anonymous said...

Honestly would not mind paying the money so much if their was food I could eat. I am a vegan, and it is so difficult for me to eat a meal at this school. Everything is doused in butter, all the veggies are de-frosted before syrup, and high fructose corn syrup is in everything (including the spaggeti sauce). Paying 10 bucks for the crappiest salads ever suck. But hey at least they have chick peas.

Office of Student Accountability said...

Rousche,

"Joe Sixpack" does not conform to the Navigator standards.

UdderlyAmazed said...

OSA- in defense of the term "Joe Sixpack"- A six-pack may also be defined as a series of Abdominal muscles which would actually have the opposite description that your assumption makes. And in PBA's case (no pun intended) the reference could be to a six pack of Pepsi products not,as I'm assuming now, your assumption that its a reference to a six-pack of "adult beverages". Not being the original writer of the comment I can't ascertain the exact definition they were implying but it is still ammusing that the term "Joe Sixpack" when viewed through the rose-colored glasses of PBA is viewed negatively. All in good fun....but oh still so accurate :)

Milk Man said...

UA...yeah right. Everybody knows it's about beer.

Anonymous said...

"Ammusing"- do you mean "Amusing" or do you mean "A-mussing" as in
"The winds are a-mussing up my hair..."?

But then again, I understand- you must have written this after drinking a six-pack of Pepsi.

rousche ftw said...

Haha. I think it is funny that a debate has started from my use of the term Joe Sixpack. Should I have used John Doe? Get back to debating meal plans and I'll remember to use John Doe next time so people don't get off topic. And before you start debating my name it is just a joke. I don't like Rousche or their products.

Anonymous said...

Zzz.

joe sixpack said...

If you had waited an hour, your Zzzs would have been cured.

just curious said...

A question and a suggestion:

Why were the comments turned off on the most recent post?

It might be interesting to look into why there was no Beacon coverage of the PBA Praise event on Saturday night...

pigs in a blanket said...

I think they were turned off because someone said the name of the administrator who they were refering too. I won't repeat it but I figure that is what happened.

In response to your second question, I don't know. What was the event?

just curious said...

pigs in a blanket...

There was a concert called "Praise Is What I Do" in Weyeneberg on Saturday night. It was very well attended by students, faculty/staff, and community members. Howevre, unless I am mistaken, I did not see anyone from the paper or the yearbook there to get coverage. This was a very large and labor intensive event put on by the BSU, and I was surprised that they were not there to report on it considering they were at Battle of the Bands and are often at smaller events put on by other organizations.

Yeezy said...

The Beacon doesn't care about black people.

non-racist white dude said...

Baxter had a night of worship planned, and executed with a turn out almost as big as that of BSU event. The Beacon and the Mast are not racist organizations. Stop playing the black card.

just curious said...

Actually, I'm white. I don't have a 'black card' to play.

Anonymous said...

The Beacon is a "student-run" paper at a small Christian school. Do not expect ground breaking journalism with a staff of half a dozen undergrads.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that The Bacon is a student-run publication at a small Christian school. As far as I know, it's written by students too. If they can break news, why can't The Beacon?

Max Power said...

Speaking of breaking news, here's an update I received from someone on campus:

Double taxing is gone! An audit of dining services revealed owners of meal plans were being taxed a second time when using flex dollars and allegedly this mistake has been corrected.

Change happens.

pimp rimp said...

Soooooooo, you're saying there's a chance?

Where did all the money go? said...

So I guess the question is: Where did all those extra tax dollars go?

I'm glad to hear that they got the issue resolved. Nice to see a positive change.

Anonymous said...

I used to attend a University in California as well that used Bon Appetit instead of Sodexo and they actually give you your moneys worth. Sodexo is terrible and I get depressed when I think back to my former dining days...