The independent news organization of Duke University

Chronquiry: Why is equivalency not actually equivalent to the cost of a swipe?

When first-years don’t eat breakfast or dinner at Marketplace, their meal plan swipe transfers into food points to be used at certain other Duke Dining locations, otherwise known as equivalency. But as first-years frequently gripe about, the monetary value of equivalency isn’t the same as the cost of eating at Marketplace.

A dinner swipe at Marketplace is worth $20.10, but students who miss dinner can only redeem their swipe for $9.30 of equivalency at the downstairs Trinity Café after 9 p.m. Likewise, students who do not use their $12.36 breakfast swipe can only use it for $4.85 toward breakfast at The Skillet in the Brodhead Center before 10:30 a.m or Marketplace lunch.

“The overhead cost of Marketplace has to be paid, even if a student misses a meal there,” wrote Robert Coffey, executive director of Duke Dining, in an email. “So that is the difference in the swipe and the cash equivalency amounts.”

This constraint also explains why the options for equivalency are within East Union—Marketplace and Trinity Café—or offer similar food options.

The first-year meal plan is designed to build community by keeping pushing first-years to eat together, Coffey wrote.

“The university has developed a dining program and a meal plan on East Campus to support the first-year experience with an emphasis on building community through dining together,” he said.

The reason why students can use equivalency at The Skillet is its central location, Coffey explained, and its variety of hot breakfast and continental options are “very similar” to the food at Marketplace.

The Chronicle spoke with seven Duke students about equivalency, and many expressed frustration at the restrictions on equivalency. Some pointed to classes and clubs conflicting with the meal times set out by Marketplace. 

“Half of the time I can’t go to dinner because of wind symphony,” first-year Ananyaa Bharadwaj said.

Other first-years wished their breakfast equivalency could count toward on-the-go food, such as coffee and pastries from Trinity Café or Au Bon Pain. 

“Breakfast equivalency should work at Trinity Café too,” said first-year Emily Breneisen.

Despite the restrictions, the locations for using equivalency and the monetary value have changed from year to year. The Skillet was added as an option for breakfast equivalency in 2016, Coffey wrote. He added that the value of equivalency is “increased annually” to reflect the cost of meal plans.

Editor's note: This article is a product of our service we call Chronquiry. A reader submitted a question, other readers voted on the question and The Chronicle got the answer. If you have a question you would like answered about anything related to Duke, visit or submit a question below:  


Share and discuss “Chronquiry: Why is equivalency not actually equivalent to the cost of a swipe?” on social media.