KSU meal plans determined by real-world factors

Kelli Fitzpatrick

Sometimes the price of a Kent State meal plan just isn’t enough for a semester of food expenses.

Sophomore pre-business management major Johnny Demith said the basic plan wasn’t enough for the Fall 2011 semester.

“I would do all my grocery shopping here and ate all my meals here,” Demith said. “At the end of November, I ran out of money and I had to add $400. Then I had to add another $100.”

On the other hand, a meal plan can be more than enough — way more than enough.

Elizabeth Buchman, junior fashion merchandising major, has had leftover meal plan money every semester.

Last school year, “I spent probably all but $200 to $250 both semesters,” said Buchman, who has the Lite plan. “I ended up having to buy a bunch of bulk stuff I didn’t really need or groceries for home.”

Meal Plan Options for the 2011-2012 school year. Subject to change for 2012-2013

Lite – $1,555 per semester

Basic – $1,695

Premier – $2,000

Premier Plus – $2,350

Upperclassman/Commuter plan – $700

As she begins the Spring 2012 semester, Buchman has more than $1,800 accumulated meal plan money, all of which must be spent by the end of finals week.

Though some Kent State students often face one of these financial issues with their meal plans, Dining Services director Richard Roldan said careful consideration goes into the proper pricing of meal plans.

“We look at our budget and expenses on an annual basis,” Roldan said. “We make sure, based on previous years’ numbers, that what we’re bringing in covers what we’re spending for the next year.”

Roldan said meal plan prices have increased by 3.5 and 3.9 percent in the past two years. The cost depends on factors such as food prices and tuition rates.

“We look at increases in wages and cost index for food and any of those things that go up yearly,” Roldan said. “As cost of business goes up, we’ve got to keep up with those increases. It’s either that or we limit services. We’ve got to make a decision: Do we increase meal plans by 3 or 4 percent or do we shut down Rosie’s over the late night?”

Q-&-A with Richard Roldan, director of Dining Services

How do on-campus food products compare with off-campus?

“As food costs go up, our prices will go up. We do, every month, take the top 25-50 items we sell and compare them to the local convenience stores and make sure we are well within the price ranges. We don’t compare to Walmart. We can’t compare a convenience store to Wal-mart or Giant Eagle or Acme. They purchase in a different way.”

Does Kent State plan to make dining plans available to use off-campus, like plans at University of Akron?

No. “FLASH cash, you can go off campus and utilize (that). The meal plan is exclusively for the facilities we operate because when we’re looking at the budget we’ve got to recover those funds ourselves. If we start expanding that to other facilities, we don’t get the revenue anymore.”

Would KSU ever consider making meal plan money accepted at the bookstore, to be used on books/toiletries?

“The bookstore has a specific contract that says, ‘we sell these items.’ I’ve tried putting those items in some of our convenience stores but we can’t yet. But that’s something that we’re looking to maybe do: add some of the toiletries into some of our markets because it seems to be a bigger (need).”

Roldan said the Kent State meal plan options are comparable with other Ohio colleges (see sidebar).

“Our meal plans, for what we have on campus and what you pay, we’re at the middle,” he said. “We’re not the lowest, and we’re definitely not the highest compared to peer schools in our area.”

When students are unable to spend their entire meal plan, Roldan said they should stay on campus often enough to use it all.

“The reason you got a meal plan is to make sure you can live on campus and eat,” Roldan said. “So what I suggest to folks (with money left over) is to make sure you’re here on campus. You either use it or lose it at the end of the year, so try to be here and utilize it.”

Buchman said she goes home about once every three weeks. Knowing she wouldn’t spend all her meal plan money in Fall 2011, she tried to petition out of the meal plan this semester.

“I wrote (on the petition form) about how I’m not able to spend the whole meal plan even though it’s the smallest,” she said. “It was denied because I had signed a contract for housing. So I had to take out an extra loan.”

Roldan said Dining Services “very rarely” lets an on-campus student refrain from a meal plan within the first two years, unless the student has a severe illness or challenge. He said only two or three students per year are let off their meal plans because it is difficult to get that money back to them.

“By the time you buy the plan, it’s already been spent to maintain facilities,” he said. “Anything that’s left over goes back to our program, whether it’s putting in a Subway or trying to update facilities.”

Sandy Rothacher, who has been a cashier at Prentice Café for more than eight years, said students must budget their meal plans to spend them correctly.

But if they have unused funds, she advises them “to come in and buy soup or non-perishable (items) and donate it to the local food bank,” she said. “It’s better than letting the food go to waste.”

Buchman said she plans to do that this semester.

“I’m going to try to spend more, probably buy big cases of water,” she said. “I’m guessing I’ll probably still have $400 (extra) again, but maybe less. If I have a lot left over, I’ll just buy canned goods and donate them.”

Contact Kelli Fitzpatrick at [email protected].