The meal plan system at Ohio State changed in 2012 when the school made the switch from quarters to semesters and now, if Undergraduate Student Government has its way, meal plans could change again.
The university’s 2012 revamped plan provided students with more transparency on what they spend by introducing a “block” system, because unlike the previous “swipe” system, students know how much each block is worth. A block — the term for OSU’s main method of currency at its Dining Services locations — represents a value of $5, but unlike a $5 bill, no change can be given.
And those blocks retain a greater value over swipes.
In 2012, Dining Services offered 450- and 600-block plans that left many students scrambling to spend their unused blocks and ended up refunding students who had unused blocks $3 per block for Fall Semester, according to The Lantern archives.
“There were some great new aspects to the meal plan from the switch a few years ago,” said Leah Lacure, vice president of USG and a fourth-year in public affairs. “All USG is looking to do is find ways to make it even better.”
So far this year, USG has had monthly meetings with the senior administration at Dining Services.
“We know that students aren’t necessarily using all their blocks,” Lacure said. “We know that students are looking at somewhat inflated prices within certain aspects of Dining Services at OSU, especially at the C-stores.”
Connor Hooper, a USG spokesman and a third-year in public affairs, said USG price-indexing research has found products such as milk and bread at the C-stores are inflated by about 82 percent compared to off-campus locations such as Kroger or Wal-Mart.
USG is also looking at how to handle the issue of unused blocks, Hooper said.
“(Blocks are) very inflexible for students,” he said. “On average, our research has shown that students only used $4.45 of a $5 block. The university gains roughly $385 per student from partially unused blocks in a school semester and that is over 10 percent of the original cost, if not more, of all non-weekly ‘block’ plans for students on campus.”
Some meal plans at OSU consist of unlimited packages, which allow for unlimited access to three Traditions locations as well as an allotment of blocks each week. Prices for these packages are either $2,575 or $1,850 per semester. Other meal plans focus on number of blocks and are either $1,895 for 350 blocks and $150 in BuckID cash, or $2,358 for 450 blocks and $150 in BuckID cash. There are also plans that cost either $1,850 or $2,165 for weekly allotments of 20 or 25 blocks.
Before the semester conversion, OSU’s meal plans consisted of five swipe options ranging from $1,225 to $1,745, Student Life spokesman Dave Isaacs said in an email. All those meal plans put $100 on a student’s BuckID and allowed for a number of swipes . The most expensive plan allowed for 250 swipes. Lesser plans descended by 50 swipes to the lowest plan, which included 100 swipes. There was one plan that provided 19 weekly swipes for $1,125. That might seem cheaper at first, but students would have been paying that three times a year rather than two because of the quarter system.
Still, USG is aiming to figure out how to eliminate the issue of wasted blocks at the end of the semester and, if possible, find a way to allow blocks to roll over to the next semester.
That plan will need to satisfy all parties involved — from students to Dining Services, Lacure said.
“The biggest thing that we face at OSU is we are not only one of the largest universities around, but we are also one of a kind,” Lacure said. “We need to look at things that fit our culture and what our students want. We need to address what works best for Ohio State.”
USG is in the process of researching and benchmarking plans from other schools from which OSU could draw inspiration. USG has looked into meal plans at other Big Ten schools such as Rutgers University, University of Michigan, Penn State University and the University of Wisconsin. USG has also looked at schools that have a dwindling balance meal plan, which are plans that give students a total dollar amount at the start of a semester with the balance working the way cash already does on BuckIDs. Cash on BuckIDs doesn’t expire after a given semester — it instead rolls over. And if students don’t use all the cash on their BuckIDs before they graduate, they can ask for a refund.
Neither Hooper nor Isaacs would comment about how these coming changes might affect the budget of OSU’s Dining Services.
Lacure and Hooper, however, gave examples of Dining Services working alongside USG to make changes, including adding a to-go option at Sloopy’s Diner last year.
“What it really boils down to is USG going and looking at what our students want,” Lacure said. “Then as we address what they want, we do the research we are doing now so we can show Dining Services solutions to students’ concerns under the current plans.”
Lacure said a best case scenario would include USG and Dining Services working together by next year that would begin to modify some of the things OSU students have said they are unhappy with.
Hooper said students will be able to voice their concerns at several town hall meetings about the topic. The meetings will be scheduled at a later date, he said.
Some students said they are feeling pressure to use all their blocks.
“I have only been here for seven weeks and I already have no idea how I will spend all 350 blocks,” said Rachel Webber, a first-year in pre-nursing. “I know at the end of the semester students buy stuff they don’t need, but I would much rather have another alternative.”
Webber said she had bought an apple and banana at Marketplace on Wednesday to make up for the money she would have lost by spending more than one $5 block but not quite $10 to make two blocks.
“It is really frustrating with pricing because I am always spending under the full block amount, or over it,” Webber said. “I would much rather just have a BuckID that carries cash, because then even if prices are still a little high I don’t feel like I am losing money.”
Still, Lacure said she’s confident changes will come.
“The great thing we have at OSU is an administration that listens and is open to change,” Lacure said. “I don’t think anybody is getting rich off the plan we have now. It is just a matter of looking at the small things we can do to make it better.”