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“It’s a big scam,” one student wrote of MIT dining in response to a survey The Tech sent out to undergraduates. Is it?

Echoing many others, the student complained that the meal plans required for those living in dining dorms are inflexible. Each meal plan offers students a certain number of meals at the dining halls each week, but there are no refunds or rollovers for missed meals.

That’s definitely a concern for freshmen in Maseeh Hall, who are required to be on the Full 19 meal plan, which includes 5 breakfasts, 2 brunches, 7 lunches, and 7 dinners each week.

Indeed, according to our survey, between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years, a decent majority of students on dining plans dropped to the new minimum meal count for their class year. For instance, 176 members of the Class of 2015 surveyed were on a 19-meal or 14-meal plan their freshman spring. Come fall, with 12-meal options available, only 44 remained on larger plans.

Interestingly, students surveyed were pretty good at showing up for their meals, based on their reported attendance. According to the survey, students on a dining plan miss 1.5 meals a week on average.

That’s just in line with a very conservative quick estimate using MIT data, which suggests that meal plan holders miss at least 1.3 meals a week, assuming everyone opts for the smallest meal plan allowed.

(Henry J. Humphreys, Senior Associate Dean of Residential Life and Dining, told The Tech that dining halls saw 317,096 swipes last semester. And though he declined to provide the number of people enrolled in each meal plan, he did tell The Tech that 2078 people were enrolled in a meal plan last semester. From MIT dorm data, that means more than 450 people not in dining dorms enrolled in a meal plan last semester. Even assuming all of these people signed up for the smallest meal plan they could for their year, and assuming all of the people in dining dorms signed up for the smallest plan allowed for their class year, the tally for meals that plan holders paid for is more than 40,000 in excess of the swipe count.)

But are rigid meal plans policies and short dining hall hours really to blame? Compared to many other schools’ dining services, MIT’s offerings leave a lot of pricing options open.