Apr 01, 2015

Question of the Day: How much does the average college meal plan cost?

Question: How much does the average college meal plan cost?

Answer: It’s really hard to say. 

Better Answer: So, it turns out, this is not info that’s readily available, even to a pretty deft Internet searcher. But I still believe it makes for an excellent Question of the Day for your students. It’s good to give challenges that are hard. Here’s what I found:

  1. Collegedata.com says, “The College Board reports that the average cost of room and board in 2014–2015 ranged from $9,804 at four-year public schools to $11,188 at private schools,” but doesn’t break down what’s room and what’s board.
  2. A USA Today article quotes the same figures.
  3. I checked my alma mater, Case Western Reserve University, and after some digging figured out it depends on your year, whether you pay weekly or by semester, and where you live.
  4.  NGPFer Andrew went to UCLA, and, it appears, you can’t get the actual costs of their meal plans without having a login.
  5. Tim, NGPF Founder, did undergrad at University of Virginia, and they include the meal plan options in the Parent Handbook section of their website; plans also vary based on your year in college.
  6. I found the concise chart you see above at SUNY Geneseo by searching for “College Meal Plan images.”

Looking for more information on college costs? Here’s the most popular NGPF “Paying for College” resources:

If you ask the Question of the Day in your classroom:

  • Have them do an internet search for meal plans at 3 colleges they’re interested in attending
  • or 3 colleges nearby your high school’s hometown.
  • Ask them to hypothesize why the info seems so hard to find
  • or why it’s lumped as “room and board” instead of split
  • or why some colleges require a student login to access the info.
  • Give them the Collegedata.com averages above, and have them compare it to the USDA data on US grocery bills. Is the college meal plan a better financial deal? Is it a better overall plan than trying to tackle food solo as a freshman?

And, please, if you find any more useful national averages for meal plans than what I’ve come up with, please leave your source in the comments section!


Be sure to check out the five lessons in the NGPF Unit on Paying For College


Additional Resource:

  • Wondering why meal plan costs continue to rise? Check out this NY Times article that describes other costs that may be flowing through that meal plan line item on your college bill.



About the Author

Jessica Endlich

When I started working at Next Gen Personal Finance, it's as though my undergraduate degree in finance, followed by ten years as an educator in an NYC public high school, suddenly all made sense.

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