The most expensive meal at UC Santa Cruz dining halls is now $14.
The minimum wage in Santa Cruz is $15.50.
Just last year, paying with a debit or credit card at a dining hall meant spending $10 for breakfast, $12 for lunch, and $13.50 for dinner. Now, these meals cost only $1.50 less than what many student employees make in an hour.
After changes to pricing eliminated the breakfast, lunch, and dinner model for those without meal plans and instituted a new flat rate, many students are faced with the difficult decision to shell out cash or eat in.
While off-campus and on-campus students in apartments may be the most affected, they are not the only ones. The price increase also affects Slug Points, or meal plan points, almost as dramatically.
For those with meal plans, the $8.28 flat rate is no more. Now, entrance into the dining hall costs $12.23.
Blow after blow seems to fall upon students, who historically suffer from food insecurity. In 2019, the campus received $1.5 million for basic needs programs after a 2016 report found 48 percent of undergraduate students experienced food insecurity while at UCSC. The same study found those who are food insecure are also disproportionately Black, Latine, Indigenous, non-binary or first-generation college students.
And students don’t perform as well when they are hungry. The National Institutes of Health published a study in 2022 corroborating research that food insecure students average lower grade points than their peers and cites links between food insecurity and decreased likelihood of college completion.
How are students meant to academically perform, nevertheless excel, when we are hungry? How are we meant to focus when we are stressed and rationing meals? When we are unable to or insecure about affording on-campus dining options?
Another change that comes in the 2023-24 school year is the introduction of Banana Bucks, a Flexi Dollars alternative with additional limitations.
One difference between these two forms of currency is that Flexi Dollars can be used off-campus for delivery via Grubhub or at independent on-campus restaurants like the Iveta Cafe. Banana Bucks cannot.
A second key difference is that Banana Bucks affords a 37 cent discount over Flexi Dollars at dining halls, with one entry totalling to $12.23 — a slight, but enticing difference.
Flexi Dollars also no longer receive a 20 percent discount at dining halls, and instead have almost the same buying power as Slug Points and Banana Bucks. This means breakfast with Flexi Dollars now costs $12.60 instead of $8.
So, why not just buy some Banana Bucks or Flexi Dollars? You just want one meal anyway and you can save nearly two dollars if you convert.
Well, you won’t just be buying “some,” because the minimum deposit into both Flexi Dollars and Banana Bucks is $50.
And since neither Flexi Dollars nor Banana Bucks roll over between academic school years, you are essentially making a non-refundable donation to the school if you don’t use the funds within a year.
And even if you have the safety of a meal plan, a four-dollar hike is still significant.
Students who purchase the Banana Slug, Gold, or Blue meal plans through the dorming mandate are locked into thousand-dollar meal plans with no quarterly rollover for unused funds. The price increase means fewer meals for students on meal plans, unless they decide to pay extra through Banana Bucks or Flexi Dollars.
And while $100 worth of Slug Points used to buy 12 meals at the dining hall, now it only buys eight.
When points were introduced last year, replacing the unlimited model, the Student Union Assembly (SUA) condemned the 2022-23 plan and urged the University to continue the five and seven-day meal plans.
The SUA raised important concerns that the point system would “restrict accessibility” and leave students to navigate time-consuming commutes to find food off campus.
This consternation is of even greater importance now as UCSC Dining Services has raised the cost of food while keeping meal plans around the same price, just devalued.
In a final confusing and possibly greatly damaging blow to students, take-out meals are no longer available after 7 p.m. on weekdays and never available on weekends. Rushing to study before your final in an hour? Take-out meals will no longer be available during finals week.
The university should be subsidizing the cost of eating on campus in order to foster healthy and nurturing learning environments. A subsidized plan would support those students who are most affected by food insecurity, namely those belonging to marginalized communities.
Food is a human right and students, faculty, and staff all deserve affordable dining options at their places of education and labor. Price increases do not reflect wage increases, and violate the dignity of individuals who work for the university and those who pay to learn.
Stop making it harder to survive here.