College dining took a big financial hit over the spring with near shutdowns of its operations on most campuses, combined with refunds of significant portions of already banked meal plan revenues, and is likely to take another modest one as summer classes and camps will, at best, generate only a fraction of the monies originally anticipated.
Next fall, assuming face-to-face instruction will again be permitted, the number of students physically attending classes is likely to be down, perhaps significantly, due to a combination of factors: a familiarity and comfort with online classes encouraged by this spring’s experience with it, lingering jitters about coronavirus infection despite any official assurances and the impact of the shutdowns on student or family finances.
Also, increased immigration restrictions are likely to reduce the number of foreign students, while the effects of the coronavirus interruption on high school seniors as to their college choice has yet to be determined. Early polling on the subject indicates significant numbers of high school graduates may opt for less-expensive alternatives or even take a sabbatical year before enrolling.
In such an environment, raising tuition or fees—including meal plan prices—to try to make up for the spring/summer shortfalls may prove either counterproductive by encouraging more students to forego in-person classes, or just a “bad look” given the economic shape the country is still likely to be in.
For campus dining programs, the new academic year may well bring fewer customers and less revenue but, if anything, even more responsibility for remaining one of the key attractions of campus life to draw students back to the in-person “college experience.”
This is part two of an eight-part series on the future of onsite operations following the COVID-19 pandemic. The first part is on the impact of salad bar.