Thousands of meal currencies are going untouched

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Students living in the Residential Halls are required to purchase a meal plan for the beginning of each semester, and the plan includes a combination of dining dollars — money for Seawolf Dining locations — and meal blocks, which are used for one meal at the Creekside Eatery or $5 at dining locations.

For an estimated 409 students, $87,491 dining dollars and 16,478 meal blocks expired on their accounts, collectively, at the end of fall 2016, according to Financial Systems Administrator Brian deZeeuw. At this time for the spring semester, the total amount of money left over in the form of dining dollars is below the fall total, which deZeeuw said is a good thing. For the meal plan currencies that are left over, deZeeuw said that there is a substantial amount of meal plans that expire or don’t transfer to the next semester.

“Working at the University, we are very aware of the amounts students sometimes have to borrow to go to school,” deZeeuw said. “It’s personally frustrating to me to see all of that money left on the table.”

On March 29, deZeeuw sent out emails to students with a balance left on their accounts and provided them the link to eAccounts, a website that helps students keep track of any meal plan currencies, Wolfbucks or printer allocation on their Wolfcard. deZeeuw said he has no advertising budget, and so he is not sure how new students find out about eAccounts, or how to use that service to budget their meal plan, but that there are other ways students can keep track of the amount of meal currencies they spend or have left.

“Whenever the student buys anything, and the cashier swipes the card, it will generally show the remaining balance. … If they get a receipt it will be printed on there,” deZeeuw said. “They can call the [Wolf]card office anytime that we are open Monday through Friday. At the housing desk, there is a little machine on the counter that will show them both their dining balance and their meal point balance.”

David Weaver, director of University Housing, Dining and Conference Services said that a student not using their meal plan can be a sign that the student is facing some sort of hardship.

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“I feel like there are some students, a small number of students, that aren’t using their dining plans because of some anxiety, because they have a bad roommate situation,” Weaver said. “Students who feel depressed… if the student’s not using their meals I think that’s a clue.”

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The Spring 2015 semester had around 336 students with leftover meal blocks, and during the Fall 2016 semester, around 409 students had leftover currency on their plans, according to deZeeuw. Weaver said the majority of students with unused meal currencies have leftovers because they are new to budgeting resources. In the past, Weaver and his staff would reach out to students who hadn’t used their meal plans in the beginning of the semester to see how they were adjusting. Due to budget cuts, Weaver said that project has been put on hold so that staff can compensate for a larger workload.

“We are doing all the same amount of work plus more with two less people,” Weaver said. “Once upon a time, we would take and pull the list of students who hadn’t used their meals by like the third week of school to say, ‘Hey… we noticed you’re not eating on campus, is everything okay? Do you have allergies? Is there something we could do to help?’”

Alec Leighton, natural sciences major, was an incoming student last semester with a large balance of meal blocks that expired on his account in the fall. Leighton said he had around 60 or 70 meal blocks leftover on his account at the semester’s end, and the reason had to do with a lack of time.

“If someone had a lot of time it’s entirely logical for them to eat more or have the ability to eat more,” Leighton said. “However, if someone has a more constrained schedule, they’re probably not going to be able to get to the Commons that much.”

Leighton said he has been able to use more of his meal blocks this semester than the previous one because he has more time. Weaver said that it doesn’t benefit the University to have students leave meal currencies untouched because of how dining services are contracted out to NANA Management Services. NMS doesn’t benefit either, according to Weaver, because of how the bidding process makes potential contractors bid for the lowest price by factoring in how many meal currencies will go untouched. Weaver thinks it is unfortunate that so many dining dollars and meal blocks go untouched.

“It’s problematic, because students are paying for those and the University does not benefit when a student doesn’t use all of his or her meals, and I want the student to have the absolute lowest cost education that they can,” Weaver said.

Meal currencies for the 2017 spring semester expire at the end of the semester and do not carry over.