Biden wants college foodservices to refund unused meal-plan dollars

The White House is blasting the convention of keeping the money as an abuse akin to junk fees, and wants it to end.
A college student holding a tray of food
Students would get back what's left in their meal-plan balance. | Photo: Shutterstock

President Biden’s outrage over so-called junk fees is spilling into college and university feeding.

The White House revealed Friday that it intends to halt institutions of higher learning from pocketing any funds left in a student’s meal-plan balance. Students either lose the money outright or binge-spend the money on items they don’t need, like basketsful of grocery products from on-campus stores, according to the administration.

The focus is part of a broader effort to shield college students from being exploited by their schools or financial institutions affiliated with the educational facilities, like banks that issue student credit cards. The administration contends that no one is protecting the young adults from being nickeled and dimed through programs like automatically charging for books as part of tuition, regardless of whether a course actually provides the texts.

Students “incur billions in fees or additional unseen costs for unused meal account funds, using a college-sponsored credit card or banking account, paying for textbooks, or simply taking out a loan to pay for school,” the White House said in a statement issued Friday. “Additionally, students aren’t always provided clear and upfront opportunities to avoid fees for services they do not want.

The White House did not reveal how it intends to curb the exploitation. Rather, it indicated that the administration will expand its anti-junk fees effort to include the questionable charges that are routinely levied on college students, sometimes without their knowledge.

Earlier efforts include a proposal by the Federal Trade Commission essentially to outlaw fees that are tacked onto bills without a forewarning to consumers, like the “resort fees” some hotels charge to help defray housekeeping costs, or the service charges that are added to ticket prices.

The FTC surprised the restaurant industry several months ago by expanding the scope of its proposal to include any surcharge that’s sprung on guests without any forewarning.

Some states and municipalities are pushing back on service fees by requiring restaurants to alert patrons about the charges before the patrons order, and to reveal precisely how the proceeds will be used.

In addition, some jurisdictions are instituting caps on the fees. Washington, D.C., for instance, recently passed legislation that caps restaurant service fees at 20%.




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