University improves access to variety of social and meal options

Several initiatives designed to expand student choice and improve access to a range of social and dining opportunities will give Princeton undergraduates more freedom to select from various options beginning next fall.

Students will be able to choose from full University dining plans covering all meals; independent or co-op dining; plans for all meals at one of the eating clubs; or a new shared meal-plan option that allows upperclass students membership in the residential colleges and the eating clubs. Because of increased spending for financial aid approved by the University's Board of Trustees -- and also agreements formalized with the eating clubs on Prospect Avenue -- students will be able to choose from among these social and dining options with little consideration of cost, said Executive Vice President Mark Burstein, who negotiated the agreements with the clubs.

"To ensure that students can benefit from the range of available alternatives, our goal is to eliminate economic considerations for undergraduates at Princeton when they choose their social and dining options," Burstein said. "We want a student to choose what he or she feels is the best option, and money shouldn't be a major driver in that consideration. This goal has been made possible through significant support from President [Shirley M.] Tilghman, the University trustees and productive conversations with each eating club."

An increase in the board funds for juniors and seniors on financial aid will make a junior or senior's financial aid award comparable to the average membership rate of an eating club, Burstein said.

Currently, the University designates a standard board rate for all students -- $4,315 for the 2006-07 academic year -- which is included in the total cost of attending Princeton. While all underclassmen eat in the residential colleges, juniors and seniors have the option of applying the funds allotted for meals to: a University meal contract; the purchase of groceries if they choose to provide their own meals or join a co-op; or the purchase of a membership contract at one of the 10 eating clubs. However, the board rate has historically been less than the cost of a club membership, which meant that students on full financial aid had to make up a difference on average of $2,000 if they chose the eating-club option.

"With increased financial aid for board costs to the average eating club membership rate -- not including the social fee -- the University now will come close to covering the cost of a club membership for students in their junior and senior year who want to choose the clubs," Burstein said. "And for students who choose other options, there still will be a benefit from the increased funds available from the increased board rate, which can be applied to a larger board plan in a residential college and/or other expenses."

Juniors and seniors who choose to live in a four-year college will be asked to purchase a meal plan of at least 95 meals per semester. Those who want shared membership between an eating club and a four-year residential college will pay the full membership rate at the eating club for which they sign in or bicker. This rate will include the cost of the 95-meal plan, Burstein said. The specific costs of the club portion of the meal plan and the number of shared meal plans available have been negotiated individually with each of the 10 eating clubs.

"I'm very happy with the results of the work that has been done," said Llewellyn Ross, a 1958 alumnus and chair of the Graduate InterClub Council, which comprises the alumni leadership of all the eating clubs. "This is a credit to the willingness of the University to reach out to the clubs to find a solution to eliminate a financial burden that some students faced, and the clubs' willingness to work together with the University to make the clubs a more affordable and acceptable alternative for undergraduates."

The University and the eating clubs for years have been developing ways to strengthen their relationship, and the financial support for meal plans and the new shared meal-plan option are a positive step in the right direction, Ross said.

According to Burstein, the collaboration recognizes the University and the clubs' shared future.

"With the University's plan to expand the student body by 500 undergraduates by 2012, we will continue to rely on the eating clubs to feed the majority of juniors and seniors," Burstein said. "We feel it's important to make the club option more affordable to all students who want to make it their choice."