Express stations: Point system is fair

Students that live on campus with meal plans, often complain the amount of points it takes to buy an item at the express stations on campus doesn’t balance with the 10-point meals in dining halls.

When on-campus students don’t use all their meals at the dining halls by the end of the week, they have the option to spend their leftover points at Eastside Express, in Grinnell Hall or Lakeside Express in Lentz Hall. More than 1,800 items are offered in the stations, including candy, soft drinks, milk, microwavable food and more.

The stores are popular, but students have a misconception about the way items are priced, said Peggy Connors, associate director of university housing.

“Ten meal points for the express correlates to $1.59¾. It’s not the same as a guest pass where their (meals) cost $8.50,” she said. “Students’ meal points for the dining hall help pay for (salaries), electrical, wages, housekeeping and more.”

Before, a student would have a weekly meal plan and, if the points weren’t used, the meals would be lost. In 1995, the point system was developed due to lack of meal usage and no rollover points.

Connors said before the points system came into place, only 56 percent of meals were used. Now 98 percent are used.

For a 12-meal plan, each meal is $8.58; for a 15-meal plan, each meal is $7.46; and for a 19-meal plan, each meal is $6.50.

Ed Wegman, a senior from St. Louis studying forestry, said the stations need to make prices more realistic.

“Everyone complains about the points. An entire meal is 10 points and a small snack like a box of 10 Little Debbie’s is also 10. I think that is ridiculous,” he said.

William Connors, known to students as Chef Bill, and  food manager of university dining, said the way items are priced in the express stations is based off the items’ suggested retail price given by manufacturers.

SIU orders its items from a variety of manufacturers such as AMCON, U.S. Foods, Prairie Farms, Little Debbie’s and others, he said. Twice a week, SIU gets shipments of items the stations order, as well as an invoice from AMCON that builds its own display of items based on popularity, he said.

“We try to stick with the prices suggested by companies, unless I think they are out of line. If so, I will come up with a different price and/or go comparison shopping,” he said.

Walmart may be a little cheaper than what’s in the express, but that’s because it purchases items in larger quantities, he said.

He said university dining can’t buy retail items in large quantities such as Walmart, making AMCON more of a middle man. They supply for smaller quantities but charge a little more, making their suggested retail price more suitable for convenient stores.

He said if something doesn’t sell, the station will lower the price. However, they don’t have a full-time person dedicated to the system, so weekly sales would be really difficult, he said.

Peggy Connors said rollover points were discussed about 10 years ago, but the university had concerns. Some students may use their meals quicker before the end of the semester and would have to pay for more food to last them the rest of their stay.

Bill Conners said he agreed.

“If many students had a lot of points leftover, there wouldn’t be enough products for everyone to use all in time. The express can get cleaned out and can’t supply all students,” he said.

With 98-percent meal usage, Connors said rollover points aren’t necessary because most students are using their meals.

Anna Greer, a senior from Washington studying zoology, said she wouldn’t want rollover points.

“I would just waste more points because I wouldn’t cash out at the end of the week and be left with 100 points at the end of the year and not be able to spend it all,” she said.

Bill sConners aid the express tried offering sales such as items for one point to help students get more for their available points.

“There used to be items worth one point like Laffy Taffy, but students didn’t really buy them,” he said. “Two-point items like Gummies at Grinnell go through nine or 10 cases a week with over 200 in a case.”

Connors said the express is a valuable tool offered for students.

“I think it’s a very flexible program, but the dining halls are better,” she said. “This is mainly used for students who have a class conflict and the dining halls are closed. With the express being open till midnight, it’s really convenient for students who need last-minute items.”

Tricia Thompson, a sophomore from Chicago studying psychology, said the stations are valuable.

“They have a lot of items and sometimes I don’t want to eat in the dining halls. I can just get a snack while going to class or a job search,” she said.

Peggy Connors said a lot of items in the store are by student requests.

“That’s actually how this program grew from the very beginning,” she said. “It used to be in a small room with a few items. Then it got popular and now we’ve expanded it to an actual store.”

She said the express stations have many benefits.

“We have items you can throw in your backpack if you’re on the go, and a lot of our items are microwavable,” Connors said.

Wegman, who has a 15-meal plan, said the plan is beneficial.

“I usually have five to seven meals leftover a week,” he said. “I try to use those points, and the express is very convenient considering I don’t have a car and work 23 hours a week.”

However, both Connors and said they encourage students to use the dining halls.

“The best option for your money is to go to the dining hall and get more food, as well as healthier food, for your dollar spent,” Chef Bill said.

 

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