DeKALB — After a three year stretch, campus dining hall guest passes have been removed from student meal plans because of low usage and high costs.
Students with meal plans were given 10 guest passes to use each semester beginning during the 2013-2014 academic year. Dan Koenen, executive director of Campus Dining, has worked at NIU for 14 months and said he has never seen another university delegate so many guest passes per student meal plan.
“We needed to be within industry standards,” Koenen said. “Many schools don’t even give out guest passes. ISU doesn’t do guest passes; some universities will give two or three.”
Between all of the changes made to meal plans and the dining halls this year, it is estimated that 500,000 dollars will be saved, Koenen said. Meal plans are reevaluated every year.
Aside from cutting back on costs, guest passes were removed because of student complaints of people gathering in residence halls and asking students to scan them into the dining halls, Koenen said. It was reported to have occurred at New Residence Hall, and at times it wouldn’t be students asking other students; it would be people who didn’t attend NIU asking students to scan them in.
“In an effort to clamp down on that and to be within industry standards, I was asked to find some ways that we could reduce our costs without increasing meal plan cost rates substantially,” Koenen said.
Tyjuan Reed, sophomore physical therapy major, said he also noticed people gathering in New Residence Hall and asking students if they could use the student guest passes.
“People I have never met before have approached me, but I never let them use a pass,” Reed said. “It was essential to remove the guest passes for that reason.”
Additionally, only 18 percent of students were using the passes each semester, Koenen said.
One third of students used two or less guest passes last semester, and less than 20 percent of students used all 10 guest passes. Last year, 500 students didn’t use any of their guest passes, Koenen said.
The change also resulted from a decrease in the amount of student meal plans over the past few years, Koenen said. There were about 5,000 students with meal plans in 2014, but the number has decreased to about 3,500 students this academic year.
Despite the change, students are still able to bring guests into dining halls. Family passes took the place of the 10 guest passes. Students can fill out a form 24 hours before their guests arrive and bring it to the Housing and Dining office so immediate family members can have access to the dining halls when they visit, according to the Campus Dining website.
Other changes in meal plans include the reduction of flex dollars, which allow students to purchase food items at other campus dining locations in addition to the All You Care to Eat dining centers, according to Campus Dining Services website. Meal plans now come with 10 flex dollars compared to 75 flex dollars last year.
“When students add flex dollars to the meal plan, it increases the price of the meal plan by the amount of flex dollars,” Koenen said. “That was not done last year, so we either had to increase the meal plans by $150 to fund flex dollars or reduce it and allow students to add flex dollars whenever they choose.”
Although guest passes have been removed this year, meal plans are reevaluated each year, so the outcomes of the removal will be assessed at the end of the academic year, Koenen said.
“We debated on going down to a lower amount of guest passes, but we felt that the family passes will give students more of an opportunity to bring in the guests they want,” Koenen said.