The University is currently considering a proposal to expand access to meals at dining halls, eating clubs, and co-ops for upperclass students — a change that could bring a potential tuition hike of $1,500 if implemented, according to information shared with The Daily Princetonian by an individual familiar with the situation.
Under the current iteration of this proposal, students would have five swipes per week to use in any dining institution on campus — including dining halls, co-ops, and eating clubs — in addition to the meal plans they might already have at any of those institutions.
If implemented, this would be a significant departure from current upperclass dining policy, which limits non-members of eating clubs and co-ops to meals where they are invited by a member.
The University is considering launching a free-of-charge pilot of this program this coming spring, with about 10 percent of the classes of 2023 and 2024 participating.
The actual plan would not take effect until the Fall 2024 semester, or later, according to an email from Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss.
A working group made up of representatives from University administration, Undergraduate Student Government, Campus Dining, the Inter-Club Council (ICC), and co-op student leadership are working on developing this pilot in a way that suits the needs of each institution, as well as those of the student body.
Hotchkiss said this working group is tasked with developing a “more inclusive and fluid dining experience for upperclass students.”
He told the ‘Prince’ that the working group’s work is driven by “the transition to an all four-year residential college model, the expansion of the undergraduate student body, and the fact that students are no longer required to have a meal plan to live in the residential colleges.”
“Learnings from this pilot, along with continued input from stakeholders, will inform potential changes to the dining system in the years ahead,” he added.
However, some eating club and co-op leadership told the ‘Prince’ they feel concerned about the potential program’s implementation.
Eating club and co-op leadership were first made aware of the proposal in the spring of 2022, according to one co-op member and one eating club member. The co-op member, referred to in this story as Jordan, said they were led to believe that the plan was first developed by the University in consultation with the ICC. The anonymous eating club member, referred to in this piece as Sam, said they originally heard of the plan from the Graduate Inter-Club Council (GICC), which includes alumni leadership from each eating club.
According to a third individual, who is familiar with ICC discussions, the plans were first brought to the attention of club presidents via their respective graduate boards, which at that time were in ongoing discussions with the university on the topic. Until the implementation of working groups over the summer, however, the ICC had not been consulted in any substantial capacity by either the University or GICC on the subject, the individual said.
“The prospect of increased club dues and other financial implications stemming from the proposed plans have made discussions less than straightforward for those involved in club leadership,” the person familiar with ICC discussions said.
The individuals interviewed for this piece spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the fact that knowledge of the pilot program was shared with them confidentially.
The ICC president and vice president did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Last semester, the University met with stakeholders from different dining institutions to raise the idea of the program, the ‘Prince’ has learned. At that point, Jordan explained, the financial details were not made clear, and students came away with doubts.
“They made it seem like there would be a mandatory [tuition] increase of $1500,” said Jordan, clarifying that more recently, the University did specify that any tuition increase would be fully covered by financial aid, where applicable. Administrators also noted that the pilot program this spring would be cost free, according to Jordan.
The University met with small groups again in the summer and earlier this fall, and developed a working group for the project.
Sam expressed concerns about the proposal putting stress on the eating club’s finances, since eating clubs operate on a slim margin.
“If you have a situation where members are being required to spend some amount of money eating elsewhere, there’s two options,” they said. “Eating clubs will either have to charge less or students will have to pay more.”
Jordan said that while they love the idea of the plan, it didn’t make sense for co-ops to be involved since all co-ops already have an open guest policy. They explained that while in eating clubs, paid workers cook the food, students in co-ops essentially exchange lower membership costs for cooking shifts. Therefore, an increase in students swiping into the co-op would result in an increase in unpaid student labor, Jordan said.
Jordan added that, though the co-ops are “big proponents of the plan” to reduce “exclusivity” in campus dining options, “we just think it should be between eating clubs and dining halls.”
Jordan also mentioned issues with capacity, as co-ops may not have the physical space to accommodate more diners, and logistics, as students would have to register far in advance so the co-op would be able to plan while buying groceries for the week.
Another co-op member said that eating clubs and co-ops serve an important separate purpose from dining halls.
“They are safe spaces where you know who you’re eating with. There’s a lot of reasons why people should be able to choose who they’re in community with,” the co-op member said. “There should be public spaces where everybody has access to food, and we have those: the dining halls. We should think about ways to address food security among students that don’t compromise our ability to have community on our own terms.”
Hotchkiss said the University intends to continue to work on these issues within its working groups and will share more information on the pilot program with the student body later this semester.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated to include additional information from an individual familiar with Inter-Club Council (ICC) discussions.
Laura Robertson is a Staff News Writer for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.