George Washington University [GWU] has agreed to more than double the amount freshmen students without kitchens receive on their dining plan, and to make corresponding increases for other students who were also reported to be starving on the existing plan.
This abrupt change follow the release of a damaging new report showing that GWU’s meal plan “sets students up to fail” by providing so little food that over half of all students (and 67% of first generation college students) “struggled to have enough to eat at least once a month.” Over 20% of the students at GWU said that at least 4 or more times each semester “they did not have enough food to eat.”
Even more astonishing, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who teaches at GWU and helped publicize the report, the University tries to convince students that the meal plan provides adequate nutrition by providing “sample meals” for students on the plan. But a simple analysis shows that even these sample meals selected by the university are not just nutritionally deficient, but can literally approach starvation level – something the University should have known, says Banzhaf.
For example, one plan described by GWU as supposedly being for “a student who works out almost daily, and eats out quite a lot but tries to ‘balance his cravings with healthier foods,'” provides fewer than 850 calories for the entire day.
But federal guidelines suggest that a 19-20 year old male (the age of a typical freshman) who only has a “sedentary lifestyle” should consume 2.600 calories a day to be healthy – more than 3 times that provided by this meal, and much less than provided by most of the meals. Even college-aged women should consume 2,000 a day, with more for men and women who work out and are not “sedentary.”
The report of the Food Institute, of which Banzhaf is a Faculty Affiliate, charges that the current system sets students up to fail, and does so to obtain a largely unearned profit at the expense of the students by extracting a 10% cut off the top. In its words, the plan insures that “the university is able to make a profit while students go hungry.” Here’s what it concluded:
“The high reportings of hunger on campus shouldn’t come as a surprise due to the current dining plan in place. As of right now, freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors are allocated $6.10, $4.02, $3.27, and $1.78 per meal per day, respectively. However, GW dining vendors charge students on average $10 per meal, with the university receiving a 10% cut from most vendors. Essentially, students on campus are required to purchase a meal plan and are subsequently forced to spend it at locations where the university is able to make a profit while students go hungry.”
GWU’s meal plan is very different from most, observes Banzhaf, although some of the problems outlined in the report may also occur on other campuses, especially for students who come from poor or minority families, first-generation students, and others, he suggests.