Parents, including me, have complained about the $60K/year cost of many schools. Even in a mediocre economy, the elite schools are competing on the basis of amenities rather than trying to economize:
How Students Eat Now
By Theresa Johnston
Stanford Magazine
July/August 2013

More important than any of these, though, has been a change of mindset. Stanford Dining views itself not as a glorified cafeteria service, but as a key player in supporting the University's academic mission. Its programs aim to teach students how to cook and eat for life. "We calculate that the 4,000 undergraduates on our meal plans each year will consume more than 200 million meals over their lifetimes," says Eric Montell, Stanford Dining's executive director. They figure, too, that habits formed on campus will ripple out in ways that transform individual lives and wider communities.

In many cases, he adds, it is students themselves who drive these changes. "They are much more interested in food today than their parents were. They think about where food comes from, and about the social justice aspects of food production. They think about environmental sustainability, and healthier eating, certainly. They come from all over the globe. And they watch the Food Network."

Lunchtime at the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons: The first-floor kitchen is fronted by a glass wall that allows students to watch while meals are prepared. Upstairs, there's an expansive salad bar topped with white ceramic bowls of organic oranges. On the back wall, a pizza oven blazes. Whole chickens, rubbed with pungent fresh oregano, twirl slowly on the rotisserie. White-jacketed executive chef David Iott, who worked at Ritz-Carlton hotels before landing at Stanford nine years ago, began his day by clipping herbs in the dining hall's organic garden.

There are no plastic cafeteria trays, except upon request. Instead, diners stroll around holding china plates, as they would at a hotel buffet. Hormone-free skim milk, fair-trade Starbucks coffee and Crysalli Artisan Water are on tap. A Pepsi machine is tucked away in a corner. "We have to have that," Iott says, a bit sadly. Then he brightens as he points out roasted organic carrots and an array of miniature decorated cheesecakes.

Stanford alumni who remember mystery meat, gloppy gravy and hashers with hairnets may find this surreal. But high-quality food service provides a competitive advantage to colleges these days. From New Haven to Berkeley, American universities are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into environmentally sustainable residences and dining facilities. "You cannot be one of the premiere universities in the country," Montell says, "and not have the dining program be on a par with that."

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." - George Orwell