Students are hungry for answers. And for the time being, Shippensburg University’s Dining Services appears unable to serve any. For the past two weeks, The Slate has attempted to write a story about the multitude of dining changes that were put into effect this semester.
After reaching out on Aug. 31 and receiving no response for several days, we were told by Aramark District Manager Asha Early via email that all responses would be reviewed by the Aramark communications and marketing team. In a second email, we were asked to communicate any future dining questions “a minimum of two weeks in advance.” Dining services did not respond to our questions by the deadline for this publication, and they were made aware that The Slate would still be running this story.
Last week, Ship Life Editor Madi Shively attempted to write a feature story on a beloved, long-term university employee. The individual seemed excited and open to being interviewed, though on the day of the interview, they were informed they were unable to share any information on record – regardless of whether it was personal or related to their role at the university – without being reviewed and approved by higher-ups within their department.
Dining Services is not unique in its reluctance to speak to our organization, but as a division of campus that every single student relies on, many want answers to the changes that have taken place since last spring.
For example, the price of a meal swipe has risen from $6.40 to $6.60, but food costs across campus have increased. One of the most expensive items is a 12-inch sub from the Sub Shop, which can cost upwards of $16 in the Transact Mobile Order app.
“School boasts that tuition is the same again and then makes surviving on campus twice as expensive,” SU sophomore Logan Miscannon said.
There is a meal deal, which includes a 6-inch sub, house chips and a small drink, that is available at the Sub Shop, but it will cost any student who does not have a meal plan $11.87, according to a Sept.11 post on the @shipdiningservices Instagram.
There are a number of meal deals across campus that make it seem as if dining has intentionally raised the amount of flex a deal would cost to make it seem like the deal is a much better option, students told members of The Slate.
In another Instagram post from the same day, Ship Dining announced that “Salad Mondays are back.” This is not quite accurate, as the previous program was “Soup and Salad Monday,” as noted in an Instagram post on March 20, 2023. Whereas students could previously get a bowl of salad and cup of soup for a meal swipe, they can now get a bowl of salad and either one breadstick or a drink. Based on images in the two posts, the salad appears to be smaller than what was previously offered.
Century Cafe was also reimagined over the summer and no longer serves fan-favorite quesadillas or chicken and waffles, and Freshens replaced the popular peanut butter protein smoothie with a sun butter protein smoothie.
Crunching the numbers
For those students who do not live on campus and wish to have a meal plan, one of the options is the 75-block plan. This plan costs $884, not including an additional $250 in flex, which is $11.79 per swipe when divided by 75. So, anyone who chooses to purchase that plan pays over $5 more than the $6.60 value of the swipe that they are receiving. In other terms, 75 meals multiplied by $6.60 plus $250 in flex is $745. Dining charges nearly $400 more: $1,134.
For comparison, the 14-meal plan with $250 flex is $1,776 per semester. If you subtract the $250, you have $1,526. Over a 16-week semester, that works out to be $95.38 a week; therefore, that is $6.81 for each of the 14 meal swipes. This appears to show students are paying 21 cents more than they get to spend for each meal swipe, and students with the 75-block plan pay $4.98 more for each swipe.
A larger demand
It is not possible to have a conversation about dining concerns without discussing the relationship between a larger student body and the demand that it puts on dining services.
During training for resident assistants in August, Housing and Residence Life officials told staff members that this was the largest incoming class in several years. The Slate could not independently confirm enrollment data for the fall 20-23 semester, but an October 2022 article by Megan Silverstrim in SU News noted first-year student enrollment had grown by 7.5% since fall 2022.
With more students come a higher demand. Instances of students having to wait for forks or cups to be available in Reisner Dining Hall raise questions as to whether the dining services were prepared for the influx of students this semester.
One student shared their experience of entering the dining hall at approximately 2:15 p.m. on a Sunday and finding no metal trays of food at the serving stations. Knowing that brunch hours are advertised as 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the student asked Reisner staff about this and was told more food would be put out at 3:30 p.m.
“I told the employee that I was unable to wait an entire hour for some food that was listed to be there all morning and afternoon until 3:30 p.m.,” sophomore Katelyn Hanft said. “The employee was very kind and offered to make me some chicken nuggets and fries, but I declined due to dietary needs. I then got myself a salad, eating while trying not to cry, as unexpected change without notice is personally hard for me. I left the dining hall still hungry after eating. This experience has made me feel worried that there will not be food available for me at the times that dining services claim.”
An online brochure featured on the Ship Dining website says “Your satisfaction is our highest priority” and Reisner Dining Hall “serve[s] only the best in variety and value.”
For many students, that promise of satisfaction is felt the least when it comes to on-campus mobile ordering.
On the Mobile Order app, SU students can remotely pay for and schedule orders from dining options such as Sub Shop, Freshens
, and Bento Sushi. However, orders are not always completed at the time it is scheduled for.
In the beginning weeks of the semester, many students have waited upwards of 20 or 30 minutes to receive their food at Freshens in Kriner Hall. An editorial detailing one experience with mobile ordering can be found in our Opinion section.
Additionally, Starbucks drinks have taken upwards of 30 to 40 minutes
, according to timestamps posted by multiple individuals on the Shippensburg Class of 2027 Snapchat story. One student placed a mobile order at 10:53 a.m. and claimed to receive their drink at 11:34 a.m.
Meeting specialty needs
When it comes to the “variety and value” mentioned in Dining’s online brochure, this is not the case for some students with allergies and dietary restrictions.
One SU student who asked to remain anonymous described their experiences in Reisner as an individual with multiple food allergies. The True Balance station often serves very similar foods almost every day, and they don't always have options available during breakfast and brunch hours, according to the student.
“People who deal with food sensitivities as well as those who are athletes who need to be eating better food don’t have options the majority of days,” sophomore Caroline Cooper said. “We feel lucky when we get edible food.”
Welcoming a response
As an imperative function on this campus, Shippensburg students deserve transparency.
The Slate welcomes dining services to provide a Letter to the Editor at any point throughout the semester in order to provide a response to the student body regarding issues mentioned in this story.