UT considers dining plan changes

University students could soon see a change in how their campus dining plans work, including those who live off-campus.

A few years ago, campus dining enrollment hit an all-time high, then dropped quickly. UT says, in the meantime, retail sales have increased.

With several new university investments, including new dining options, university officials are now looking for new ways to keep the revenue flowing into the dining system.

Junior Blake Roller is a student senator, and also serves on the UT Dining Services Committee. He first heard UT's proposal about two weeks ago.

"We were basically presented with a plan, stating, now all students – all 21,000 undergraduates here at UT -- are required to purchase, per semester, a $300 dining dollar plan upfront. Then at the end of the year whatever was not spent, would actually be given back to them," Roller said.

MORE INFORMATION: Read UT's dining proposal

In the proposed plan, the requirement for on-campus residents living in certain dorms to purchase a meal plan would be dropped. Instead, undergraduates would have two options: either purchase a meal plan, or purchase a debit balance plan for dining with a minimum of $300 per semester. The requirement would extend to all undergraduates students living on and off campus.

UT officials say this is just one of several plans being considered, loosely, at this time. They presented it to student leaders and requested feedback.

Roller and his peers had plenty to give.

"A lot of students, they move away from campus to get away from that requirement to have a meal plan," Roller said.

His fellow student senator, Mitch Thompson, added "A lot of kids find it much more cost effective to not be on a meal plan after their freshman year when they get off campus."

In the proposal, unused dollars roll over from fall semester to spring. Any funds remaining at the end of the year are transferred to the students' "All Star" account to be used for books, food, or other campus purchases.

Roller and Thompson said university officials told them they could also apply to get their unused dollars re-deposited in their bank account.

UT's presentation lists several advantages to the potential plan, including, among others, the additional revenue generated for campus to support the new facilities.

Roller and Thompson believe it's a good incentive for the current dining service company, Aramark, to keep partnering with the university.

"So it seems like a good idea on paper, but in reality it's just going to be an interest-free loan we're providing Aramark and a lot of students are very upset [about] it," Thompson said.

Roller agreed, and said the university likely knows plenty of students will end up spending the money that's there.

"It's basically an upfront loan to Aramark and it's like a gift card," he said. "And if the money is sitting there, you're more likely to use it versus if you didn't have it sitting there at all."

UT said the plan is one of several, is still very preliminary, and they wanted to hear students' opinions before making a final decision.


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