Navigating what’s left of students’ meal plans

As the Spring 2022 semester is coming to an end, students are dealing with an annual problem: those who have an excess amount of meal swipes or dining dollars are scrambling to make use of their university dining budget before they expire on May 19.

Lehigh offers nine meal plans that provide varying combinations of meal swipes and dining dollars which can be used differently at dining halls and retail dining locations across campus.

Lehigh Dining wants to meet the needs and lifestyles of students, but those can fluctuate from person to person, Lehigh Dining marketing manager Evan Rehrig said.

Although students try to choose a meal plan they believe will fit their lifestyle, many find themselves at the end of the semester with either an excess amount of meal swipes and dining dollars, or they run out of both too early, Rehrig said.

Nora Li, ’23, buys an item from The Grind on May 4. Many students have an excess or lack of meal swipes and dining dollars as the end of the semester approaches. (BW Staff Bucky Yu)

Swipes and dollars do not carry over to future semesters, so whatever may be leftover must go forever unused.

Rehrig said he hopes this helps students learn about budgeting because the process of creating a budget is going to be important when students leave Lehigh.

For students who have a large amount of leftover meal swipes or dining dollars, Lehigh Dining has their “annual end of semester bulk sales” so students can use their meal plan to buy bulk snacks, drinks and more. The bulk sales began on an unofficial rolling basis and are available in Upper Court, Rehrig said.

There is currently no program in place where students can donate food or money from meal swipes off campus to the Bethlehem community, Rehrig said.

One student who feels like she has an excess amount of leftover meal swipes is Samantha Opalewski, ’25. She currently has the 200 block meal plan that includes 200 meal swipes and 150 dining dollars.

“I mostly eat dinner at Rathbone, and that’s only one meal swipe,” Opalewski said. “I’m not usually using a lot of meal swipes in a day, and on the weekends I usually don’t use my meal plan.”

Opalewski feels that she has budgeted her dining dollars well. When she goes to retail dining locations on campus, she said she usually uses a meal swipe and pays the excess with dining dollars.

She now plans to buy bulk food in Upper Court with the remaining balance.

Other students, such as Natalia Sanchez Santiuste, ’24, have used too much of their meal plan and are nervous they will lack enough meal swipes or dining dollars to eat sufficiently through the end of the semester.

Sanchez Santiuste has the 125 block meal plan which includes 125 meal swipes and 250 dining dollars. This plan is not available to first-year students.

She eats most of her meals at Lower Court and Rathbone Dining Halls, which only require one meal swipe per meal. Even though she prefers to eat at budget-conscious locations on campus, she is still low on meal swipes, Sanchez Santiuste said.

“Last semester I had the 225 block plan, but I ate a lot off campus and had a lot of meal swipes leftover, and I felt like I paid way too much out of pocket,” Sanchez Santiuste said. “So, before this semester, I calculated roughly how many meal swipes I would use in a week thinking I would eat a lot off campus — but I didn’t.”

A Lehigh ID card is swiped by a staff member at The Grind on May 4. Many students have an excess or lack of meal swipes and dining dollars as the end of the semester approaches. (BW Staff Bucky Yu)

Sanchez Santiuste now has seven meal swipes left, and is even relying on her guest swipes — another feature of many meal plans — to get meals herself.

Rehrig wants students to get the best value for their meal plan and feels the best way to do this is awareness of how they are using their plan.

“We hope students will take the initiative to always be aware of what their balance is, and they can do that by either going on the student portal and checking or always asking our cashiers every time they dine with us,” Rehrig said.

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