Editorial: Raise the Dining Allowance for Students on Financial Aid| January 10, 2016
Following reading and final examination period, the most pressing event for the University’s sophomore class is making the decision of where to dine as upperclassmen. We are all familiar with the various options for upperclassmen dining: eating clubs, co-ops, residential college dining hall meal plans and independent dining. With nearly 70 percent of upperclassmen claiming membership in one of the 11 clubs on Prospect, there is a significant amount of social pressure placed upon underclassmen to join an eating club during sophomore year. The Board understands this social pressure and encourages the University’s Office of Financial Aid to increase the upperclassmen dining allowance, which is currently set at $2110, to a higher figure in order to prevent financial constraints from impeding students’ access to eating clubs. The Board similarly encourages a smaller increase in the dining allowance for students in their fourth semester at the University.
The University currently determines the increase in the financial aid dining allowance by surveying the eating clubs to ensure that the upperclassmen dining allowance “is in line with the average cost of a club meal plan,” not accounting for social dues. Although an increase in this allowance would mean that the Office might need to take into consideration social fees, this decision is justified because the single-figure annual cost of being a member of an eating club is the sum total that students and their parents must financially maneuver, not a meal expense and a separate social expense. The two expenses are not mutually exclusive in respect to payment and they should not be mutually exclusive when determining how much aid to grant to students. Moreover, an increase in the dining allowance of second semester sophomores is needed because students who join clubs sophomore spring are responsible for paying dues upon admission. Postponing joining a club until junior fall is not always a viable option for students who are financially constrained, because several clubs reach capacity in the spring and do not accept new members in the fall.
While some may find it strange to say that the University should support independent institutions, the Board finds it necessary. With the vast majority of upperclassmen being members of these clubs, they are an integral part of campus life. Being unable to join a club can severely strain relationships due to separation from friends or teammates. Although there are other less expensive alternatives to membership in a club such as joining a co-op, remaining on the residential college dining hall meal plan or dining independently, these options should exist only for students who select them for reasons other than financial constraints. Additionally, no student should be compelled to take on debt to finance his or her upperclassman dining plan due to social pressure.
The Board recognizes that fully covering eating club expenses appears to generate incentives for eating clubs to raise their dues, but we believe that there can be two strong checks against this. First, there exists a natural barrier in the form of students who are not on financial aid. These students represent a sizable portion of eating club members and will surely contest rate hikes. Second, the Office of Financial Aid could limit the allowance not to exceed 120 percent of the average annual cost of all eating clubs or the cost of the most expensive eating club. This system would force dues to remain in line with what they are today.
Over the past few years, Princeton has made great strides in attracting students from low-income backgrounds to apply. While it is noble to welcome and accept students from various backgrounds and walks of life, it is still necessary to take the next step by creating a dining system that avoids segregating students by income level. Whether or not this outcome is intentional is beyond the point of discussion. Rather, the Board urges the Office of Financial Aid to reconsider the current standard dining allowance for upperclassmen and question whether or not the sum suffices in removing the financial barrier between upperclassmen and partaking in an expensive and exclusive dining culture.
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-in-Chief.
Thomas Clark ’18 abstained from the writing of this editorial.
Paul Draper ’18 recused himself from the writing of this editorial.