A Swipe At Cash Equivalency

Last-minute meal swipe policy change leaves students feeling jipped


Just a day before Fall classes started, the UofSC meal plan changed, rendering much of upperclassmen’s meal plan maneuvering advice useless to incoming freshmen. Two months into the semester, students are still unhappy.

On Wednesday, August 21, students received a mass email announcing that cash equivalency meal swipes had been discontinued from most on-campus dining locations. Under the Cash Equivalency system, time of day dictated set retail meal swipe dollar values.

Not so under the meal swipe combos policy. Instead, students can either swipe for specific combinations or use meal plan dollars for a la carte purchases.  

Ryan Finley

Before the policy change, a lunch meal swipe at The Creamery would be equivalent to three scoops of ice cream. It is now only worth one scoop of ice cream or a meal swipe combo, such as an Aquafina water, a whole fruit and a Nature Valley, Kind or Cliff granola bar.

This measure, the email explained, would “assist students in making healthier and complete meal choices.” UofSC freshman, Kalika Bridwell, is dubious.

“The fact that they claimed it was for our health really irritated me because it was so obviously just a grab for more money; they know college students are too lazy to go out of their way to use the extras once they make it a little harder,” Bridwell says.

Ryan Finley

“The meal plan is ridiculous,” she adds. “I spend a lot of time going back and forth to Russell to pick up things that I don't plan to eat, and then I freeze them and take them home to my family on the weekends. I was extremely frustrated because [the cash equivalency policy] was the only reason I wasn't terribly angry about having to get 14 swipes — at least I could just stock up on things for my family instead of constantly stuffing myself.”

Like Bridwell, Tanathan DeLong tries to get his money’s worth, but very few of the on-campus dining options meet his expectations.

“Say for like the majority of people, yeah, it's probably healthier. But for me, someone who eats more than double the two thousand recommended calories a day, It would definitely be nice to be able to use extra meal swipes,” DeLong explains. “I get stuff I could eat later on. I haven’t done a single preset combination because I just know it’s not going to be enough, at all. I looked at The Creamery’s; a Lunchable with water? That’s 400 calories. That’s nothing.”

Emily Lamb, who is on the Garnet 14 Silver plan, recognizes the importance of a “Healthier Carolina,” but feels the current system is inefficient.

“I can appreciate how they want us to limit, say, ice cream at The Creamery, but then they allow us to get a milkshake. So, it just seems like it isn’t evenly applied everywhere. If it were applied equally everywhere, maybe I’d feel a little bit better about it,” Lamb says. “There’s just money going everywhere that’s not being well-spent. I want to get something that’s going to be both, filling and worth the money, and healthy. It’s hard to balance all three.”

Genna Rivers, a nursing major in the honors college, spends much of her time studying and often can’t factor a sit-down meal at Russell House into her schedule. To supplement her meal plan (Garnet 14 Silver), she spends 20 dollars at Target every few weeks to restock her dorm snack supply.

“My room is for when I don't have time to go eat. If I could use my meal swipes on convenience items, that would save me money because I could use a meal swipe to buy snacks rather than buying snacks at the store. It’s not like we would be swiping and getting, you know, a Snickers bar and a bag of M&Ms. Most people would use it for practical food in their room.” 

Ryan Finley

Rivers felt misled when she heard of the policy change.

“Everybody got so upset because, whenever we signed up for the meal plan, a lot of the orientation leaders and the people at orientation were telling us it doesn't matter if you have extra meal swipes because you can spend it on whatever you want. And then after we pay for the meal plan, we get told that the rules are different,” Rivers exclaims. 

DeLong agreed.

“I feel like for those people who did get the 21 meal plan or whatever, really got short-changed because they came here expecting one thing and got another.” 

Rivers wants to put her meal funds toward practical purposes, ones that best accommodate her dietary and logistical needs.

“I already paid that money to the university, so I should be able to use that money how I want to use it because, at the end of the day, a meal swipe is money, right?” Rivers asks. “We're adults; we're not in elementary school. We should be able to swipe on whatever we want.”

To make the most of your meal plan, these students recommend using GrubHub’s Meal Swipe + Meal Plan Dollar Payment option for Cash Equivalency and visiting https://sc.campusdish.com/en before using a meal swipe to gain access to buffet-style campus dining locations. 

To read more about UofSC’s meal plan options, visit https://www.sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/dining_services/meal_plans/index.php.

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