This fall, UAA is implementing a new way to provide meal plans for students residing on campus. This change includes adding more meals per semester to be used at the Creekside Eatery, as well as decreasing the Dining Dollars that can be used at certain locations on campus. Students can choose between five different plans that offer a “block” of meals.
David Weaver, the director of Housing, Dining and Conference Services, says that these changes were brought on as an effort to give students more for their money. The meal plans in previous years were not suitable for students, especially when it came to ensuring they were provided enough servings to last in any given week.
“One issue we have seen semester after semester is a large proportion of students will run out of meals and then add on and pay additional because the meal plans, honestly, were not very student-centered,” Weaver said.
After partnering with NANA Management Services, which operates Seawolf Dining and Catering and is contracted by UAA, the University decided to provide better meal options in exchange for an increase in the overall plan price. As a result, NMS has made improvements and upgrades to Creekside Eatery in the Gorsuch Commons from food quality to environment.
Kari Sellars, marketing manager for NMS, says that an increase in value is an important part of providing a better experience for students.
“We also have themed meals… we’re really going to mix it up in there and there’s going to be a lot of reason to go and try lots of different options for food,” Sellars said.
Sellars also appreciates the joint effort between NMS and University Housing to conduct surveys in order to gain feedback and discover what changes students and faculty expect to see.
“We’ll do [surveys] inside all of our locations. We did a great one last fall; it was very successful and I was really excited about how many students turned out for it,” Sellars said. “We got a lot of really good feedback that we take and work as best as we can to incorporate some of those requests.”
Some students are still wary about the change in price per meal and the number of meals provided in a semester. Much of their concern is centered on the amount of Dining Dollars that has significantly decreased from last year’s plans.
USUAA President Alec Burris is beginning his second year on staff for University Housing as a Resident Advisor and will be receiving the new default meal plan, which gives 14 meals per week along with 200 Dining Dollars. Unlike the 250-meal block plan that allows meals to be exchanged at other dining locations, this default plan restricts RA’s and other students’ ability to choose where to eat.
“This is pretty concerning to most of us because firstly, we had never been consulted about the change at all,” Burris said. “So they were changing the compensation for us without actively consulting us… and then secondly, we were worried about where exactly were people going to eat lunch on campus.”
Despite the University’s efforts to make meals more valuable, the new meal plans take away the Dining Dollars that can be used toward food services across campus and put the money toward the Creekside Eatery. Burris says that this is a decision that impacts students’ desire to eat somewhere convenient and accessible rather than having to return to the Commons.
“I think you really get in conflict with the fact that they’ve removed the meal exchanges from the majority of the plans this year. So if a student wants to eat a lunch… at Subway, Caliente or the Cuddy, they can’t use their meal blocks,” Burris said.
Weaver says that there are a number of driving factors behind the meal plan changes, including ones that affect costs, and lower enrollment numbers are one of them. UAA’s Housing, Dining and Conference Services are expected to be sustainable and when enrollment numbers are declining, the restaurants on campus are experiencing difficulties with financial stability.
Burris says that these costly decisions raise the question of whether or not the meal plan changes are truly beneficial to students.
“I think in past years with declining enrollment, [NMS has] been put in a position where they felt like they’ve had to make certain changes. The issue here is whether or not they’ve actively consulted with students on these changes and whether or not these changes are better for NANA Management Services or for the students,” Burris said.
Weaver and Stellars hope that their initiatives are an indication that the University is pushing to help students and provide the necessary adjustments to be well fed and taken care of.
“These things, I hope, show an investment in UAA and student satisfaction and we’re really trying to embrace the concept of continuous improvement,” Weaver said.
The new meal plans and add-ons are active and available for purchase starting this fall and can be viewed online on UAA’s website.