Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 8, 2021

Hopkins students paying top dollar for fake dollars

By ALANA FARR | February 1, 2012

As the spring semester at Hopkins begins, students experience a mix of excitement and dread — and rightfully so. This new semester surely brings new professors, new classes and definitely new challenges (especially for those freshman losing the comfort of covered grades). But lest we students forget — with the new semester comes the little luxury that is our replenished Dining Dollar accounts.

Dining Dollars are a type of Hopkins currency worked into all school meal plans. Freshmen, for example, are given the choice between fourteen meals a week at the Fresh Food Café and 250 Dining Dollars or unlimited meals at the café and 100 Dining Dollars. Other plans available to sophomores and upperclassmen offer even more Dining Dollars. As outlined in the Hopkins meal plan brochure, Dining Dollars can be used at any JHU Dining by Aramark location on the Homewood campus.

They do, however, come at a cost. One meal plan offering 1,300 Dining Dollars per semester costs $1,677. Clearly, this isn't a one-to-one ratio. Students (or more likely, their parents) pay about $1.29 for every 1 Dining Dollar. Another plan offering 1650 Dining Dollars per semester costs $2,079. Although this larger plan does knock the price per Dining Dollar down a bit, it is only a slight decrease, with each Dining Dollar still costing $1.26.

So what are we paying for? Convenience, perhaps: Charles Market is only a step away, while places like Levering Hall and Pura Vida are located in the middle of Homewood. All offer quick, pre-made meals and snacks. The only other comparable stores within walking distance of Homewood are University Market and Eddie's, and both stores require a longer walk from campus.

To this end, the disproportionality between Dining Dollar and U.S. dollar might be justified. But unfortunately, the price of food and other items are egregiously marked up for profit. Dining Dollars, costing students more than they're worth from the start, don't get someone very far in CharMar. Kashi GoLean Honey Almond cereal, selling for $4.99 on drugstore.com, costs $8.09 in the market.

Prices are also climbing: a small box of Stone Mill Bakery brownies, which cost $2.99 in early September, now costs $4.99.

The JHU Dining website boasts that they charge students fairly, even including the line "Check out our competitive prices!" on the Charles Street Market web page in bold, red letters. What's more, JHU Dining states that it has "conducted a competitive pricing analysis within the area to see how prices at the local convenience stores compared to the prices at the Charles Street Market." Apparently, they then either threw out the results, ignored them or filed them away.

Students don't put up much of a fight because meal plans offered at Hopkins have a way of making us feel like Dining Dollar accounts are free. It is easy to forget that we are paying for them at all and especially easy to forget that we are paying nearly 130 percent of their actual monetary value. Even the fictional name — Dining Dollars — implies that purchases using these funds don't cost "real money." Students, particularly freshman, tend to view meals at Levering or at CharMar as a treat. Yet a box of Kashi cereal at CharMar costs nearly 62 percent more than it would elsewhere.

Furthermore, freshmen and sophomore students at Hopkins are obligated to buy a meal plan, along with Dining Dollars. If students don't mind paying significantly higher prices for the convenience offered by these Aramark locations, then having that option is great. But for those students who do — and would rather walk to Eddie's or Uni-Mini for a bite to eat — meal plans should be offered without Dining Dollars.

Although I will make it a point to deplete my Dining Dollars before the year ends, as the money does not roll over from year to year, I myself will be buying my cereal elsewhere.

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