Eating Clubs

October 2005

With Campus Club closing, “socioeconomics” are again a topic of discussion around campus. Well, around the Prince, anyway. Regina Lee, who stays on top of those sorts of things, writes this article which contains a good deal of information and interviews about the situation.

If the University wanted to make economics irrelevant in upperclass dining choices, it could do so easily. To explain, some basics.

Every Princeton student gets an expected family contribution (EFC) from the financial aid office. For students with families who are very unable to pay, that EFC is 0. For the 50 percent or so who don’t receive aid (or don’t apply), it’s $43,000. Each student then gets a budget, including a generous travel, books, and expenses allowance. The total is around $43,000. The University then makes up the difference between the student’s budget and the EFC, almost entirely with grants - no loans.

If the University wanted to do so, it could simply change each student’s budget to reflect the cost of whatever dining option the student chose, keeping the cost of the dining hall as the minimum that would be budgeted. This would wholly eliminate a student’s or her family’s finances from the decision, and would cost the University relatively little money.

Whether or not this is equitable - and whether it would change anything – is another matter entirely.

To ask the University for an even higher allowance for dining is in my mind nothing short of excessive. They already allot $4,200 per year - if more than that is needed, it probably should come in the form of a student loan. The interest is tax-deductible and doesn’t start accruing until after graduation. According to Regina Lee’s October 5th article, even the most expensive eating club’s board rate is only $2,600 more than the dining hall’s. Thus the absolute worst case scenario right now is a student graduating with something like $6,500 in loans for two and a half years of that eating club. Saying that you will graduate with just $6,500 in student loans would make about 15 million other American undergraduates green with envy – before you even mentioned where you got your degree.

Even if the student budgets were changed, and finances were no longer a factor, there might still be very little change on the Street. So many of the “problems” of the Street (if I may naively try to expound upon that subject in only a paragraph using cliches) are the result of people forming images, perceptions, and stereotypes and then only looking to confirm them. If you are looking to see stereotypes, you’ll see them. If you are looking to see people being exclusive, you’ll see that too. If you are looking to be excluded yourself, you probably will be. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it’s the real reason that people make the choices about dining options that they do, not the all-encompassing catch-all of “socioeconomic factors.”