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BG Falcon Media

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February 16, 2024

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Meal plans economic burden

In the earlier decades of the 20th century, some coal companies paid their workers in company scrip that could be used only at company stores.

This compensation was in lieu of wages paid in U.S. currency. Miners’ families shopped at the over-priced company store and lived in company houses that were high on rent and low in comfort.

The tyranny of this system was immortalized in Merle Travis’s 1946 song “Sixteen Tons” with the refrain “You load sixteen tons. What do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt … I owe my soul to the company store.”

Not until workers united, organized and demanded an end did company stores begin to fold.

College campuses, it would seem, are a far cry from those coal camps.

Unlike the miners whose labor never allowed them to advance, students’ academic labor will, it is hoped, eventually pay off with greater opportunities for personal and financial enrichment.

However, for all of the differences, there are some similarities between camps and campuses.

In a loose parallel to the coal company store, consider the meal plan options for first year students at the University.

According to the Dining Services’ website, “Making the transition to independence can be a challenging journey. To help ease this transition, BGSU Dining has introduced a First-Year Custom Dining plan, which includes a combination of meal swipes and Falcon Dollars, offering great flexibility and value.”

This “great flexibility and value” ranges from $1,542 to $1,992 per semester. And what of those Falcon Dollars? According to Dining Services’ FAQ link, “Falcon Dollars may not be used off campus or at the BGSU Bookstore.” As a result, first-year residents find themselves locked into a meal plan that forces them to either gorge themselves on meals or risk the purge of their dollars as a term concludes.

This is one of many examples of the economic burdens that students accumulate in the course of their academic careers.

At the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website, Rohip Chopri reported in March, 2012, that “outstanding student loan debt hit the trillion dollar mark” in 2011 in the United States. Such a degree of indebtedness limits and constrains graduates’ choices because graduates “owe their souls to the company store.”

In a discussion on Melissa Harris Perry’s MSNBC show on May 19th of this year, Dorian Warren, political science professor at Columbia University, observed: “We are literally trapping in a caste system in some ways, today’s students.”

Maybe it is not such a far cry from those miners indebted to their companies and the graduates indebted to institutions that nickel-and-dime-and-Falcon-Dollar out of opportunities for basic security.

Mine-labor organizer Mary Harris “Mother” Jones’ advised workers to: “Sit down and read. Educate yourself for the coming conflicts.” That education empowered the workers to demand better conditions. Likewise, students’ education can empower them to bring about change.

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