Northern Iowan

Flex meals reduced from 20 to 2

ADRIANA MIENE, Staff Writer

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The Department of Residence (DOR) recently revised a section of the meal plans they offer to students.

In years past, on-campus meal plans included 20 flex meals, which allowed students to grant occasional dining center access to their off-campus friends and family members and take meals to-go. Students will now receive “guest passes,” which continue to allow students  access for friends and family.

However, students will receive only two guest passes per semester, a large decrease from the 20 flex meals offered in previous years. As a result, the DOR increased the amount of dining dollars on meals plans to make up for some of the lost value.

Some students were critical of the change to the meal plans, especially students who utilized all of their flex meals in the past.

Hailey Johnson, a senior management information systems major, is a student who used all of her flex meals when she had an unlimited access plan.

“I was able to bring older UNI students or non-UNI students into the dining center and it gave me an opportunity to catch up with people,” said Johnson. “It allowed me to hang out with other club tennis members and get to know them on a more personal level in a casual environment.”

According to Johnson, even after she stopped purchasing meal plans, she was able to dine at campus dining centers about five times each semester because of friends who had flex meals letting her in.

“I have four siblings and if my family came to see me, I can’t get all of them in the dining center with only two guest passes,” said Julia Sippola, a first-year student who had heard about the decrease.

Thomas Griffin, a second-year transfer student, believes there should be closer to 10 guest passes. 

“I have two sisters, so if they both came up, I would have no more guest passes,”said Griffin. Jacob Schons, another second-year transfer student, agreed with Griffin.

He went on to explain that if his sisters came for the weekend, he would only be able to provide one meal for them, then the rest of the time they would not be able to go to the dining centers.

Some students didn’t mind the reduction.

“The number of guest passes is fine, but it’s not ideal,” said Cody Boozell, a first-year Spanish major.

Director of Dining Administration Janet Despard said, “We found that flex meals were confusing the term flex meal.”

Despard said that after they sat down with some student groups and others, they decided that previously offered to-go meals, in which students could fill a provided plastic container with food and take it with them outside of the dining center, would not be part of a typical dining plan, and flex meals would be called guest passes.

Annie Karr, the assistant director of residence marketing said, “In order to maintain the same rate, we had to reduce the amount of flex meals.”

The DOR also worked to make the meal plans more customizable by selling booster pack options with extra dining dollars and guest passes.

“One of the goals when developing those plans was making them customizable, so the student could customize the plan to fit their needs,” said Despard.

“Last year, the Department of Residence created and administered a committee to discuss reformatting the meal plan structure for students,” said Caleb Gipple, NISG senator. “From my previous conversations with Janet, the committee was looking at making the dining plan more cost effective for students and took a number of things into consideration.”

“We were looking at trying to simplify the plans so they were easy to understand,” Despard said. “So those were some of the factors we considered as we sort of drafted the original templates or models [of the new meal plans].”

According to Despard, this wasn’t a quick decision.  “We started the process of looking at the meal plan options and the different dining plan options two years ago in order to have them in affect this fall,” Despard noted.

After the drafts were finished, the Department of Residence sent them to the NISG and RHA for feedback.

“In response to very direct recommendations from those groups, we tweaked the plans,” said Despard.

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Flex meals reduced from 20 to 2