By: John Feinberg and Joshua Stavrakoglou
A new $200 mandatory meal plan imposed by Suffolk County Community College is raising the bill for the students on top of a $180 tuition increase they received for the year. Implemented in August, the meal plan has become a cause for concern for parents and students who were given no say in the decision.
“Over the summer, an article in a local paper brought to my attention Suffolk was starting this meal plan,” Amy Kretz, a mother of a senior attending the school, said. “The school never said anything about this.”
Suffolk County Community College, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) System, changed food vendors over the summer after multiple problems with a previous company which lead to their contract not being renewed.
“I live close to the campus, about two minutes away,” student Alyssa Zayas said. “If I schedule enough time in between classes, I can go home.” She was only notified about the meal plan after examining her fall bill.
The new vendor at Selden and Brentwood campuses claims that in order to bring new chains, it requires guaranteed income to make the plan feasible. Aramark Educationational Services LLC could not be reached for comment on their business plans for the school.
Stony Brook University, a nearby university also in the SUNY system, offers multiple levels of meal plans for both commuters and residents. Stephanie May, the university’s registered dietitian, says that the meal plans offers a way for students to track how much and often they eat, with the school offering several ways to calculate a healthy way of eating. While Stony Brook University is a much larger school, it is still part of the state system and often referred to for dietary advice by SCCC, school officials said.
Students at Suffolk Community are only exempt from the meal plan for religious reasons, medical documentation, or nursing students who have clinical rotations at hospitals. The plan adds $200 on top of the $180 tuition increase for the year.
“My daughter works hard to pay her tuition, and now on top of the $180 tuition increase, she has to pay another $200 for the meal plan,” Kretz said.
Another student’s mother, Maria Rodrigues, was surprised when she saw the added fee. “No one mentioned the meal plan during orientation,” Rodrigues said.
Dover Hospitality Services’ contract expired after years of complaints and accumulated fees owed to the college. In the five-year contract, signed by by Dover and SCCC in 2010, the vendor agreed to pay the school 11 to 28 percent of sales. By August 2015, nearly $160,000 in fees were owed to SCCC. The new contract with Aramark Educational Services LLC, a 10-year deal, may bring $2.4 million to the vendor with an unspecified percentage to the school, according to previous contract drafts between the school and vendor. The final contract is still pending.
The meal plan is leaving a bad taste not just in the mouths of students and parents, but also in local legislators. Assemblyman Michael Montesano (R,C,I-Glen Head), a Nassau Community graduate, sees it as a disservice to the students. “When schools want to cut a deal with a new vendor, let them pay for it. Don’t push that fee onto the students,” Montesano said.
According to both students and parents, no notice was announced for contract bids nor the school’s decision on making the plan mandatory and they only noticed the fee increase when it was introduced onto their fall tuition bill. “So far, my son only has seen new signs and a new Starbucks coffee machine, but no other changes,” Stephanie Bryant, a mother of a senior student at SCCC, said.
While both Aramark and SCCC could not be reached for comment, Assemblyman Montessano said he penned several letters to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher for an explanation; she has not yet responded. A Facebook page was created in protest of the meal plan, with several students leading the charge to make the fee optional and to be refunded the costs from this fall semester. If no changes come from the school’s administration by Christmas, students will be charged the additional $100 for the spring semester by the beginning of January.