"Students, FSA Debate Merits of Meal Plan Options"



No matter what meal plan a student chooses, he is rarely satisfied. Declining balance provides convenience, but at a price; meal plans offer cheaper food, but at set hours and in pre-determined quantities.

Many UB students, particularly those living in the residence halls, take advantage of meal plans due to their convenience and tax-exempt status, while others opt out entirely.

"I am a junior and I do not have a meal plan or [Dinning Dollars] anymore because I would never eat the food," said Dale Skir, a legal studies major.

The Faculty Student Association, currently UB's dominant food service, is a not-for-profit corporation organized to handle certain auxiliary enterprises on campus.

The company is responsible for administering the UB card system, dining services, vending machines, catering, convenience stores, summer storage, refrigerator rentals and athletic concessions.

Not all students have the freedom to decide whether to utilize FSA's services; freshmen living on campus are required to purchase a meal plan for both semesters of their first year.

"This was done to help freshmen better acclimate themselves to living away from home. The university felt ... that by having freshmen be on a meal plan would reduce some of the stress of a new living situation," stated Mitchell Green, executive director of FSA, in an e-mail.

Some students feel the plans are too structured, and would prefer more flexibility.

Brian Lotterhos, a freshman undecided major, is unable to attend three dinnertime meals because he plays club baseball Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

"So I have the 14 meals but I can't even go three days a week," said Lotterhos.

Meal plans are available in packages of 14, nine, seven and five meals for $1,300, $1,260, $1,125 and $990 respectively. All plans include an additional $300 in Dining Dollars.

Green pointed out that most SUNY schools require all students living in the dorms to purchase a meal plan; UB only regulates freshmen.

"I have Dining Dollars on my card, but I need to take advantage of my meal plan. I know I am a freshman but I would prefer Dining Dollars, because you have more of a selection," said Lotterhos.

Jason Anwiler, a junior psychology major, still lives in the dorms and remembers all too well his freshman year at UB.

"It was way too expensive, I didn't use even a small percentage of my meals, and as a result I had 13 meals left over. I used at the most once a month," he said. "Personally, I think it was really a waste of money. They should make the deal a bit more appetizing."

For students who dislike the structured meal plans, Dining Dollars offer a more flexible way of eating on campus. Dining Dollars are tax exempt and may be used at any FSA dining area and campus vending machines.

One of the caveats of the meal plans is that students will not receive reimbursement for meals not used by the end of the academic year. While Dining Dollars can carry over from the fall to the spring semester, at the end of the second semester all remaining dollars are forfeited.

Green said reimbursement of unused meals or Dining Dollars is not possible under current New York state law.

"My understanding of the law is that if a student at an educational institution enters into a contract for pre-paid meals the contract will not be subject to New York state sales tax. The interpretation of the law does not allow for refunds as this would be contrary to the prepayment condition," said Green.

Consequently, many students at the end of each semester are left scrambling to redeem their meals and spend their Dining Dollars - often on extraneous items - to prevent the money from being absorbed by FSA.

"The problem was at the end of the semester I had a lot of money left over. I used all Campus Cash and [Dining Dollars] on vending and other stuff but not on the dining halls. I just wanted to get rid of it," said Anwiler. "After all, it was my money and I work 30 hours a week just to make ends meet."

Green indicated that students are given ample time and numerous warnings to make use of their Dining Dollars.

"We notify students several times during the semester as to their Dining Dollars balances. If you consider that each student on a meal plan receives $300 in Dining Dollars and that there are approximately 16 weeks in a semester or approximately 80 class days, that $300 amounts to about $3.75 a day for students to use for lunches," Green said.

According to Green, the average student had less than $12 remaining on their accounts at the conclusion of last year. He was unable to provide specific information regarding the total amount of Dining Dollars forfeited by students each year or the number of meals missed by students on the meal plans.

"Our system is not capable of providing that information," said Green.

Several students questioned where the forfeited Dining Dollars actually went.

"I know I cannot get it back, but I just want to know where that money is going to, or how much of it there actually is - probably a lot," Anwiler said.

Any leftover balances return to the corporation, according to Green.

FSA is a self-funded organization. It receives no subsidies from UB or the state to cover operating costs. This means that in addition to obvious expenses such as food and staffing, they also incur the costs of rent and utilities, insurance, vehicles, capital purchases, equipment and maintenance costs associated with the UB card system, telephone and computer systems, programming and university staff support.

"No individual benefits from the profits of the corporation," said Green.