Making a difference

Is the quality of foodservice a factor when deciding on a college?

I have always been skeptical of claims that the quality of foodservice is a determining factor in a student’s choice of college. When I was considering my higher education, cost and academics were my main measurements and food never entered into the equation.

My skepticism remains, but I must admit that it has wavered a little, the result of my tour of the University of New Hampshire earlier this month. Dining Services Director Jon Plodzik and his team told me an interesting tale that demonstrated that, at least sometimes, the foodservice program can make a difference.

In one of the dining halls at UNH, there is a “gluten-free” zone. Students suffering from celiac disease can choose from a number of items at this station, knowing that the foods contain no traces of wheat. What’s more, Dining Services has created a special gluten-free menu, so that if a student comes to the station and doesn’t like what’s on the steam table, he or she can select from the menu and have the item made to order while he or she waits.

This is becoming more common on college campuses as a stronger spotlight has been shone on celiac disease. But schools like UNH are still in the great minority, and the benefit of being ahead of the curve was demonstrated last year.

“We had a student visit our campus who had been offered a full scholarship by another school to play field hockey,” Plodzik explained. “But she chose us, despite the free ride, because of our gluten-free zone. She said she felt that her dietary needs would be better taken care of with us, and that was extremely important to her.”

While I don’t know the name of the other university, I imagine that, if the student and her parents had pushed the issue, the scholarship-offering school would have found a way to accommodate this student. I mean, it was offering her a free ride, and that’s a tough thing to turn down. But apparently this student felt that UNH was a school that cared, and that meant more than the scholarship.

I still believe that this is an isolated case; most students wouldn’t have turned down the scholarship. But there is no denying the weight of the evidence: the quality of your dining program can make a difference.

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