Penn students launched a to protest Penn Dining’s policy of disallowing students to cancel their Penn dining plans.
The petition, which had collected 131 signatures by Wednesday evening, was created by rising Engineering sophomore and web developer for The Daily Pennsylvanian Colby Cox.
While students are able to register for a dining plan independent of a housing plan, there is also a section of the undergraduate housing plan application that prompts students to register for the dining plan at the same time. So, in the process of settling his housing for the upcoming year and making choices on bedroom types, roommates and other living conditions, Cox said he registered for one of Penn Dining’s eight meal plans “not even thinking about it.”
As a result, Cox said he didn’t have the opportunity to properly consider the expense and logistics of the plan he chose.
Before selecting a dining plan, students agree to a list of terms and conditions. This list includes a section stating that cancellations are not permitted, except in a situation where a student leaves campus. It also explains that students cannot be released from a dining plan agreement for financial reasons because Penn Dining is not affiliated with Student Financial Services.
Cox said that although these terms and conditions are made readily available, students are still left in an unfair position. In his situation, he technically agreed to the terms of conditions of the dining plan when he was filling out the housing application.
“It’s kind of insane that we can’t get out of this, even though they say it’s in the terms and conditions of the housing application, that you can’t get out of the dining plan if you chose one,” Cox said. “You’re not thinking that terms and conditions are going to have anything to do about dining when you’re applying for housing.”
After seeing his student bill, Cox called the University to cancel his meal plan, but discovered that it was binding and, therefore, interminable by the student.
“I was looking at things the other day, looking at Penn Pay and looking at all the costs, for the semester,” Cox said, “and I see $1,500 for the dining plan, and I’m like, ‘Oh, crap. I don’t want to do that.’”
That’s when Cox did some research and found a thread on the Class of 2020’s Facebook page on this exact issue. Cox realized he was not the only student experiencing this problem.
A number of other students on the Facebook page said they also chose a dining plan for the upcoming semester last spring from which they now want to withdraw.
“Even people with financial aid reasons for trying to get out of the plan, couldn’t get out of it,” Cox said, “even with the help with their financial aid advisor.”
In addition to petitioning for cancellations, Cox is also calling on Penn Dining to provide higher quality food service.
“I want to see a change in Penn Dining where things are based on the student and the student experience,” Cox said.
“Because at this point, when you talk about the cost per swipe for freshmen who are forced to take out a dining plan, you’re talking about insane amounts of money for swipes of food that is very low quality, Cox added. “And that is something ubiquitously agreed upon.”
Cox’s sentiments reflect opinions written by many of the signatories on the petition’s comment section. They also echo a conducted last semester by the student consulting group, The MindBank, which found that of 169 students, 64.5 percent are unsatisfied with their overall experience using Penn Dining.
Penn Dining conducts its own annual survey of around 1,000 students to improve services, but does not make the results from that survey public.
Penn Dining was not immediately available to comment on the Dining Plan petition.