Meal plan changes offer students food for thought

By Faith Healy

Students living in NIU residence halls may see changes to the way they dine on campus.

Michael Stang, executive director of Housing and Dining, said NIU is considering changing the way it handles meal plans to shift to a format similar to other universities.

When it comes to other universities, Stang said they trend towards a different system than the one used at NIU.

“The trends seem to be all-you-can-eat buffet, anytime meal plans,” Stang said. “And they also have a system like Huskie Bucks for grab-and-go places.”

NIU meal plans work on a declining dollars basis. Each week, students are allotted an amount – $60, $90 or $120 – to spend as they wish.

Some on-campus dining destinations are “a la carte” or “grab n’ go.” They allow students to buy individually-priced food items.

There are also locations that offer All-You-Care-to-Eat. In these dining locations, students pay a flat fee and can eat unlimited during the hours of the meal. For example, Grant North Sunday Brunch lets students eat unlimited from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays for $7.49.

Most other state universities in Illinois offer dining plans based on what Stang called “all-you-can-eat buffet[s].”

For example, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, students’ plans are based on meals per week instead of dollars per week. One meal is used every time a student dines at an all-you-care-to-eat location.

The all-you-can-eat plans are supplemented with flexible dollars that can be used to purchase individually-priced items. For example, at University of Illinios at Urbana-Champaign, students can use Cafe Credits to buy a-la-carte items in the same way NIU’s meal plan dollars can be used.

But adjustments to NIU’s dining plan may not be made.

“If we do [switch], we need to figure out a financial model to make it affordable and a good value,” Stang said. “Eventually we want to sit down with students and [get] their input about how they feel about the decision.”

Study groups exist to find out if students approve of changing the meal plan, Stang said. Stang said it’s for the students to decide because they’re the ones who use the meal plans.

Some students, like Deshannon Howard, sophomore physical therapy major, are for a new meal plan.

“I think it is a good idea,” Howard said. “[It] sounds like a good way to save money.”

Some students would like to see changes to other aspects of NIU’s dining plans.

Meal plans currently adopt a “use it or lose it policy;” if you don’t use all of your meal plan money by midnight on Sunday, it doesn’t roll over into the next week.

“I think [the ‘use it or lose it’ policy] is stupid,” said sophomore biochemistry major Kayla Carstens. “Why should they take our money if we don’t use it?”

This policy does have two practical purposes, Stang said: to keep quality service for students and to ensure students don’t have a surplus at the end of the semester.

If students are stuck with a huge budget at the end of the semester, Stang said, they will end up buying items for the sake of buying them, limiting services and supplies available to students for the next semester.

Editor’s Note: Managing Editor Kyla Gardner contributed to this article.