On Sunday, Jan. 27, Ann Marie Powell, the director of AU One Card and Dining Services (which split from Housing and Residence Life last year) visited the AU Undergraduate Senate to present a number of changes with regards to the meal plan selection on campus and meal plan requirements for students living on campus. As part of the financial processes surrounding the budget, Powell’s proposals will be sent to the Board of Trustees for approval toward the end of February. The proposal is summarized in the graph below.
The proposal’s most disruptive change is its detachment from Dining Dollars, and institution of a restriction on Meal Swipes for some students. This new system, called the Meal Exchange, serves the same function as a Meal Swipe, but plays a specialized role in making sure the other proposals run smoothly. I will elaborate on this, but we have to cover some stuff first.
Powell’s proposal also includes the creation of a new, week-based meal plan: twelve swipes per week costing a total tab of $2,540 per semester. In her presentation to the Undergraduate Senate, she explained that under the 12-meal week plan (which also includes 300 EagleBucks), each "Saturday-Sunday week"—the week begins with Sunday and ends with Saturday—the university would fill each student’s lunch box with twelve Meal Exchanges, which students may enjoy at most locations on campus, at whichever point during the week they’d like. This is an exception to the Meal Exchange rule: the swipes given under the 12-meal week plan can be used anywhere where either Exchanges or Swipes are accepted. However, under this 12-meal week plan, your Exchanges won’t accumulate; the number of meals in your account—should you buy this plan—would reset to twelve, each Sunday.
What is currently valuable to know, and also what was debated among students at the Undergraduate Senate meeting, are the price changes involved. In the proposal, AU Dining seeks to change the required meal plans for first- and second-year students housed on campus. Instead of a 175-block meal plan with a semesterly tab of $2,442, freshmen living on campus will automatically be signed up for the 12-meal week plan, which, as stated before, will cost $2,540 a semester. Sophomores—who are currently required to buy a 100-block plan priced at $1,588 per semester, every semester—would have to buy this “weekly 12” plan. Given that there are approximately 15 weeks in each semester at AU, the weekly plan would be equivalent to a hypothetical 180-block meal plan. Therefore, if Powell’s proposal is approved in its current form, freshmen next academic year will see a meal plan price increase of around $100, while second-year students living on campus could see a $2,000 price increase per academic year.
Powell’s proposal also includes an “All Access 7 Day” plan, which includes all-day, unrestricted access to the Terrace Dining Room (TDR), 100 EagleBucks, and 5 Meal Exchanges per week—and it costs a blistering $3,050 a semester. Meal Exchanges are a restriction on swipes in this plan to ensure that unlimited access does not extend outside of TDR. While students on this All Access plan would have unlimited swipes at TDR, they would only have five Meal Exchanges per week that they could use at other AU Dining retail locations. (As opposed to the All Access plan's Meal Exchanges, the Exchanges under the 12-meal week plan will be accepted in TDR.)
Some of AU Dining’s other ideas outlined in the proposal include a 100-block plan with 400 EagleBucks, a 50-block plan with 100 EagleBucks, and a single-purchase option for 800 EagleBucks. (What somebody does with 800 dramatically undervalued EagleBucks, I haven’t the foggiest clue.) In terms of individual meal prices, each Meal Swipe or Meal Exchange under the proposed policy would be valued at $8.78 per meal with the all-access plan on average, $11.67 per meal with the 12-meal week plan, $12.50 per meal with the 100-block plan, and exactly $13.00 per meal with the 50-block plan. The last three of the aforementioned meal plans do not include Meal Exchanges—rather, the Meal Swipes included in those plans can be used at any location that would accept either Swipes or Exchanges.
The administration seems to have realized that having two parallel currencies (Dining Dollars and EagleBucks) on campus, each limited to pre-specified locations, was actually lowering revenue—and that taking away one of those and replacing it with a more proactive Meal Swipe program (for which students on campus show considerably more affection) would earn AU, its contractors, and its retailers more cash. This is the status quo.
In their outline, shown above, AU Dining plans to expand the number of EagleBucks spread amongst the student body—and in the process, alleviate a curious monetary quandary on campus that the existence of Dining Dollars propagated: the value depreciation of both currencies and the ensuing confusion over which buck is spent where. This may have primed the student body’s backlash against the administration over the scrutiny, and eventual demise, of MegaBytes near the end of last semester.
Revenue, clearly, is the priority. The nice aspect of that is that students living on campus should expect to be eating more food without an economic crisis on their hands every time they feel in the mood for chicken and fries. However, students should also expect to be paying more—for second-year students living on campus next year, $2,000 more. At the individual rate, the meal costs are the same as previous years. What AU Dining is hoping to accomplish, it seems, is not to increase the price of food—but rather to have us to buy more of it. However, the cost of complexity is oftentimes efficiency.
In the video of Powell’s presentation, Charles Smith, director of AU Auxiliary Services, expresses in conversation with Undergraduate Senators that if faced with significant negative backlash, AU Dining Services won’t enact the higher requirement for sophomores. The AU website lists Ann Marie Powell’s email address as firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information on meal plans and where Meal Swipes and Exchanges can be used, refer to the AU One Card & Dining Services web page.