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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Incoming students largely choosing more expensive tier meal plan, data show

The majority of first-year students living in residence halls in the upcoming semester are selecting high-tiered options in the new meal plan program unveiled by University Dining, according to documents obtained by The Daily Cardinal.

A document distributed at a meeting between a dining shared governance group and University Dining officials revealed that 73.66 percent of the 4,511 students who have signed their housing contracts for the fall chose to deposit a minimum of $2,100 onto their WisCard exclusively for on-campus dining.

According to the document, 57.28 percent of students signed up for the $2,100 Tier 2 plan, while 16.38 percent chose the Tier 3 plan, which requires a minimum deposit of $3,100. Approximately 25 percent of students optioned for the minimum deposit of $1,400.

Director of University Housing Jeff Novak said while they predicted more students to choose the lower option plan, these numbers are not too surprising. Novak said the data show the “clarity of the program is proving to be beneficial to both students and parents.”

“It affirms that our students are wanting to now dine with us,” he said.

Novak said these numbers reflect the choices of just 4,511 incoming students, with the university still expecting approximately 2,245 more to sign housing contracts as transfer students are admitted and freshmen continue to make housing decisions over the summer.

He said, however, that he expects the distribution of meal plan selections to remain relatively constant with current numbers.

UW-Madison sophomore and shared governance group member Yogev Ben-Yitschak said this data isn’t surprising, but argued it does not affirm that the plan is beneficial.

Ben-Yitschak emphasized that while the majority of students can afford the meal plan, a series of protests that have been ongoing since the plan was revealed were in support of the “select few” students who would not be able to afford the plan.

“All of the protesting and everything that we were arguing about and yelling over — it wasn’t over the common majority of students,” Ben-Yitschak said. “We were yelling that the students who usually get left out in these conversations are going to continue to be discriminated against.”

But Novak argued that the university’s goal is to accommodate every first-year student who wants to live on campus. According to Novak, only two incoming students have requested to opt out of the meal plan — one for religious reasons and the other for dietary restrictions — and both requests were accepted.

While this data was shared at just the first meeting between the shared governance group and dining officials, Novak said the groups will have continued conversations surrounding the meal plan.

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In fact, the group recently discussed a student idea to create an “all you care to eat” option to the plan, in which one of the six university dining halls would be converted to a pay-at-the-door facility. Students pay a set amount of money for breakfast, lunch and dinner before being able to eat as much food as they desire.

Novak emphasized this idea was presented to University Dining based on student feedback, and he simply asked the student group to explore that request further.

There are no plans at this point to institute the idea in the future, Novak said.

“If we were even to do this based on the feedback [we would gather], the earliest it would be would be 2019: a year and a half from now,” he said. “The change is our new tiered structure. That’s all that we are looking at for the fall.”

Ben-Yitschak said this newly-formed communication between shared governance and University Housing is beneficial.

“This committee is a really important thing to have,” he said. “There is no other established way to bring up concerns from students on campus who don’t currently live on campus — to bring up concerns with what is going on in Housing and Dining.”

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