Fall 2016 marked the first semester of expanded meal plans that include Swat Points for use in the Ville. For the first time in Swarthmore’s history students now have the option to use their meal plans to eat at Aria, Bamboo Bistro, Dunkin Donuts, Hobbs Coffee, Occasionally Yours, Renato Pizzeria, Vicky’s Place, and the Co-Op giving students more freedom than in previous years to choose where they eat. First year students, however, have less freedom than the rest of the student body. This restriction, decided without student input, has drawn some criticism from members of the student body. The changes have also increased business for Ville vendors, as it is easier than ever for students to access the restaurants in the borough of Swarthmore.
For students, especially first years, the OneCard has brought wider dining choices as well as some challenges. The four plans having varying proportions of meals to Points, points for use at on-campus locations, and Swat Points, points for use at off-campus locations. Some plans have more meals than points, and others with less meals but more points. First years have only two meal plan options, the SWAT Plan and the Garnet Plan. The SWAT plan has unlimited meal swipes that can be used at Sharples and Essie Mae’s, as well as 150 Points and 150 Swat Points. The Garnet Plan gives students 275 meals per semester as well as 300 Points and 200 Swat Points. Towards the end of the semester, some students began to run out of Points and Swat Points. For first year student Aditya Jayakrishnan ’20, staying on campus for Fall Break was a large factor in running out of Points.
“Thrice a week last semester, I didn’t have enough time to get to Sharples and back for lunch, … [so] I resorted to just eating at the coffee bar instead. That, coupled with the occasional trip to the Ville, and the fact that I had to stay on campus over Fall Break and use my Points in the Ville and at Essie’s meant that my Points were gone soon after Fall Break,” he said.
Jayakrishnan was on the Garnet Plan, the most point-heavy plan available to first year students. For the second semester, first years have the same two options, potentially preventing them from choosing the meal plan that would best suits their needs. The administration, represented by Dean of Students Liz Braun, Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Anthony Coschignano, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Brown said that first years have always had the least choice in meal plans, and that the Sharples experience was important for for first years.
“We want Sharples to remain the main point of contact for first year students,” Braun said. The administration also cited budget concerns and stability as reasons for keeping first years limited to two different plans, as successfully operating Sharples hinges on being able to accurately estimate the number of students at each meal. While first years were more limited than other class years, the administration noted that there was an increase in flexibility for all class years in terms of dining options with the addition of Swat Points, as well as that the plans are blocked for the entire semester rather than weekly.
The decision for first year students to not be able to access to have all the plans in the second semester has limited students. The decision mirrors the college’s housing policy, which is that first year students are required to live on campus.
Ming Ray Xu ’20 switched from the Swat Plan to the Garnet Plan, and felt that students should be allowed more autonomy in choosing their meal plans.
“The meal plan is unnecessarily restricted, a recommendation from the college would be fine. I understand that the administration wants us to not starve at the end of the semester, but I have access to data about how many meals I eat in a semester, the OneCard system lets you see that,” he said. Students can access information about their balances, including number of remaining meals, Points, and Swat Points by going to the OneCard center on The Dash. With this information available, students, including first years, have access to the knowledge they need to select the meal plan that best suits their habits for the following semester.
In addition to giving students more options for dining, the OneCard has had effects on Ville vendors as well. The ability to use Points in the Ville makes off-campus eateries more economically accessible, and restaurants in Swarthmore have noticed a considerable uptick in business from students. Dunkin’ Donuts employee Manmeet Kaur estimates that the coffee and doughnut shop has about 130 dollars in OneCard transactions on an average weekday.
“It was pretty consistent throughout the semester … and [we have] 20 times, 30 times more students than what we used to get,” said Richardson. The expansion of the meal plan into the Ville has also increased social interaction between students and members of the Ville.
“I’m very happy with the college actually taking an interest in working with merchants, it’s a win-win for everybody […] it’s not a dollar and cents thing to me as much as it is adding to the vibrancy […] of the downtown community […] it adds to the character of the town, having more students here,” Richardson continued. The new meal plans have served as a bridge between the college community and the greater Swarthmore community and has made it easier for students to break the so-called Swat bubble. Merchants in the Ville have not only noticed the increase in students, but are also learning more about their purchase patterns.
“Our most popular items are deli [items] […] sandwiches […] prepared foods […] snacks and beverages.” She went on to say that the Co-Op “has begun to have active discussions about ways to offer a premium hot pizza at the Co-Op,” said Dawn Betts, an employee at the Co-Op. The potential for the Co-Op to expand their options shows both that the OneCard has had a considerable effect on students making purchases in the Ville as well as vendors’ interest in being a part of student life.
However, the pattern of students primarily purchasing foods that are pre-cooked or pre-prepared contrasts with the vision the administration has for New PPR. The possibility of a new plan just for students in New PPR would have less meals and more points than current meal plans since the dorm includes plans for kitchens. Braun indicated that she envisioned smaller communities within the residence hall where students would still eat communally.
The OneCard and the new meal plans have been met with popularity by both students and merchants, with the chief complaint coming from students who cannot access the full flexibility of the plans. Minor changes to the meal plans are expected from the college as more data on how, when, and where plans are used is collected from its first year of use. OneCard’s successful roll out and implementation have had clear benefits for both students and the town of Swarthmore.