When it comes to food, convenience comes at a cost, and no one knows this better than university students.
Prices of goods at university convenience stores tend to cost more than those found off-campus. This begs the question: are universities exploiting students by offering such steep prices in on-campus food stores?
Not every student has a car, leaving them with little choice but to fork out more money on food, drinks and other items in their on-campus food stores, especially when faced with time constraints.
Last year, Eastern Michigan University’s (EMU) The Eastern Echo compared on-campus fares to prices found in off-campus grocery stores. Among the selected products for comparison were Aquafina 20oz bottles of water, Nature Valley Oats and Honey bars, brown sugar Pop-Tarts and a 20oz bottle of Pepsi.
They found that goods sold in on-campus food stores were steeper than those found off-campus.
Speaking to The Eastern Echo, EMU freshman Shannon Brodie said that while prices were higher, it made sense for the convenience of not having to go off-campus.
“I always knew [the cost] was a little bit more, but out of convenience, you know, I just kind of had to accept it,” she said. “I guess I understand it, but I don’t think it’s totally fair.”
Meanwhile, student Sam Stockham said the prices were especially steep when you don’t have a car to leave campus. “I live in Ohio, too, so it’s not like I have family members that can give me rides to stores,” she said. “I’m basically stuck here, so I have to pay.”
Are inflated prices in on-campus food stores unethical?
In Forbes, Richard Vedder said: “I have traveled to literally scores of colleges and universities in recent years, and often inquire of students about the prices they pay for goods bought in college-run convenience stores, sometimes in the student union building, and generally get similar reactions – school prices are higher than those of private commercial providers. Is this exploitation or not?”
Vedder, a Distinguished Professor of Economics Emeritus at Ohio University, opined that this was both an economic and moral issue.
“The economic issue is that universities have [an] enormous amount of monopoly-like power. Once students enrol at a school, it has a monopoly over the provision of educational services, and often non-educational services as well, such as housing and providing food,” he said.
He added that universities often compel students to live in their dorms and eat their food, and sometimes force them to pay fees to help finance such non-academic activities.
“The moral question is why do adults responsible for the intellectual advancement of older children transitioning to adulthood exploit them for financial gain?” he said.
“Colleges have expenses and bills to pay, but they are given special privileges by society (government subsidies, exemption from taxes) because they are performing the important social task of helping young persons become adults and prepare for the world of work. Ripping off students, where it happens, sends a bad message –you can exploit the weak and vulnerable if it is profitable to do so.”
Is the convenience worth the cost?
While prices in on-campus food stores tend to be inflated, students can look for alternative solutions to cut down their expenses.
Whenever possible, students can consider:
- Carving time out of their weekends to take a bus to a grocery store with affordable prices where they can shop for the week or month ahead
- Shopping for food items during sales or choosing generic over branded goods
- Prepping and batch cooking meals for the week or month ahead
- Purchasing items in bulk (for items used regularly and/or with a long shelf life) and splitting them with housemates or friends