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UMass Dining proposes major meal plan changes

Shaina Mishkin/Daily Collegian

Shaina Mishkin/Daily Collegian

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the times and locations of the town hall meetings.

University of Massachusetts Dining Services announced a new Residential Meal Plan on Monday, which includes three options for on-campus students that are different from the current ones.

The changes include two different plans that offer unlimited access to dining commons options as well as a “basic” plan of 200 DC swipes per semester, according to a handout provided by UMass Dining.

On-campus students will no longer have YCMP swipes and instead use Dining Dollars at retail services. Commuters, on the other hand, may choose from various YCMP plan options.       Though prices are tentative, they do indicate an increase in cost from the current Value Meal Plan offered.

Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Ken Toong said the 2014 Residential Meal Plan is a product of “extensive” planning.

“We started the process back in November during the budget planning process, when we interviewed our student ambassadors, listened to the feedback from students through comments cards, surveys, social media and emails, and talked to our peers at UNH, UConn and URI,” he said. “We also received recommendations addressing flexibility, convenience and value for the meal plan from external review peers from the Administrative Quality Assessment and Development.”

Toong emphasized that plans are subject to change, noting two town hall meetings that will occur on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Berkshire Dining Commons and Friday at 7 p.m. at the Worcester Dining commons that will be open to students to discuss the meal plan changes.

“We are aware of the questions and concerns on social media and have received comments from students about the new meal plan these past couple days,” he said. “We appreciate all of the student input and take it all into consideration. I encourage everyone to come to the town hall meeting and ask questions. Our goal is always to put students first as we strive to offer you the best dining program in the nation.”

Director of Residential Dining Services Garett DiStefano said that the move toward unlimited meal plans follows a trend in dining across the country, especially at UMass’ peer schools.

DiStefano also said that survey data reported students wanting more flexibility of when, where and how many times they could eat.

“Food is a big deal here at UMass,” he said. “Students don’t want to lose a swipe with a small purchase, they want stronger buying power. We want our students to be able to utilize dining commons as a home kitchen away from home. We want to build a community around food.”

In terms of price increases, DiStefano said, “Every year, unfortunately, food prices go up.  We are faced with higher and high costs from suppliers, operations, etc. But we are not a for-profit organization. Our bottom line is student satisfaction.”

According to DiStefano, UMass Dining hopes to move rapidly in finalizing options “so that when you look at your SPIRE bill you know exactly what you’re getting.”

The new meal plan has not come without reactions from the student body.

“It bothers me that they’re trying to market something as a regular meal plan that doesn’t even constitute more than 1.8 or 1.9 meals a day,” UMass freshman Dan Riecker said.

Becca Brossoit, a junior studying psychology, also had reservations about the changes.

“I think they should put careful reconsideration into changing the meal plan so drastically, as well as increasing prices,” she said.

Serena Thomas, a freshman electrical engineering major, had mixed feelings about commuter options.

“I think that this is a great effort by UMass and would be a great convenience to commuters, but it is just way too expensive,” she said. “I would never pay that much for a few meals a day when it’s cheaper to buy your own food.”

Not all the responses have been negative, however.

“For me, I liked the new unlimited plan because I’m on unlimited now,” freshman Jon Meyer said. “And yes, I’ll get less guest swipes I don’t use them all now and it provides me with more dining dollars than YCMP’s which gives me a greater variety of where I can go.”

DiStefano called the amount of feedback from students “overwhelming,” saying that the “number one thing we have to do now is go to the town meeting to vet out what would be the best situation. We want to explain that these changes are not coming out of thin air.”

Added DiStefano: “We consistently try to have an open dialogue. We did do our due diligence. Now, we want to see how we can adjust.”

DiStefano sees the new meal plan as an opportunity for a “great partnership (with students) to improve our program even more than before.”

“We want to empower our student with a voice in planning,” he added. To any students: please feel free to reach out to me. We want this to be as transparent as possible. All this student concern is actually a great thing. It is a testament to our students’ passion.”

Marie MacCune can be reached at mmaccune@umass.edu and followed @MarieMacCune.

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