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Without a Choice

For some going to college means time for freedom and a place to get away from mom and dad. However, students on their own for the first time may sometimes worry how they will cook, all by themselves, without mom or dad’s help.

When freshmen come to live in the residence halls at USF, they are required to have a meal plan no matter where they live on campus. A transfer student who lives on campus is only required to have one if he or she does not live in a resident hall like Holly or Kosove, which have full kitchens.

Tom Kane, director for residence services, said the idea for a required meal plan for incoming freshmen came from a recommendation from a consultant the university hired in 1996 to study the housing policy, procedures and attitudes at USF.

“Back then when students left campus after living in the halls, they left not knowing anyone,” Kane said. “They really didn’t have a social place. Before I came, the residents only had a stairwell to meet up with someone if they wanted to get together.”

Kane said, based on this study, the university wanted to figure out a way it could help the students meet each other.

“The cafeteria is a social place. A place to meet and talk to different people,” Kane said. “It is more a place that gives a sense of community.”

Freshman C.J. Schurman said she doesn’t use all of her meal credits. Her plan offers 150 meals throughout the semester, plus $125 in flex bucks, but like Kane feels that the cafeteria is a good social place. Flex bucks is money that can be used at other campus dining locations besides the cafeteria.

“It is a social thing for my dorm and I to go every night at six,” Schurman said.

Students who cook and freshmen with a time crunch were other issues discussed in 1996, Kane said. Residence halls like Epsilon, for example, have a kitchen that is for the whole floor and don’t have much room for all the residents to cook.

“Freshmen have classes, sometimes work to worry about and not a lot of time to cook,” Kane said. “(USF) wanted to find a way to help them succeed in what they do and not worry about cooking.”

Kane said when he came to USF five years ago, he inherited the recommendation that was made and discussed it with the faculty, staff and students, along with the Residence Hall Association.

“RHA agreed that it was a good way for residents to meet people, and the university did too and decided to go along with the idea of having a required meal plan,” Kane said.

Students are offered a choice of 15 different dining plans from the current dining service company Sodexo/Marriott. Per semester prices range from $1,332.50 to $982.50.

Kane said the meal plan is convenient, and he even buys one for himself. But he said another issue with incoming freshmen is that they don’t necessarily know how to cook for themselves.

“We have more fire alarms go off because people leave things on the range and don’t know how to cook, food shop or store the food properly,” he said.

This year the current contract with Sodexo/Marriott is up for bid. In negotiating a contract, the university puts together a packet of concerns and issues that they would like to see, one being how students can get a better value out of their meal plans.

“A problem we have is that during lunchtime, students aren’t always in the area of the cafeteria but at places like Subway and the Marshall Center,” he said. “They have no flexibility.”

USF solicited dining service companies and received four bids to serve USF. These companies submit a proposal to the university, and the university finds a company with the best ideas for a good price.

Kane said the proposal is complicated, though, because the services have to deal not only with meal plans but catering, satellite locations around campus and the Marshall Center, as well.

Amy Truong, general manager for administrative services at Sodexo/Marriott, declined to comment on meal plans due to the current bidding situation.

Kane said for the money the students pay for their meal plans, they should be able to have flexibility. Tweaking the plan/deal is something the university probably needs to do, Kane said.

Meredith Peterson, a sophomore, said she uses her flex bucks and that she has used her meal plan approximately six times this whole year.

“I think that freshmen should have the option of just having flex bucks,” Peterson said. “If they want to eat at Subway or Pizza Hut, who cares? At least they are still eating.”

Kane said the problem he has with having an exclusive flex bucks plan is that new students don’t know how to budget properly.

“They will see that they have $500 to spend on food and offer to treat a friend to lunch, and they would run out of money to spend,” he said.

Kane said the meal plan works for different types of people, and everyone has different kinds of schedules.

Freshman Chris Hall said he understands that the university wants to make it more convenient for the students but isn’t really crazy about the idea of mandatory plans.

“I didn’t like the fact that I had to get one the first time on campus,” Hall said. “The cost of it is too high for what it is worth. It’s probably cheaper if you go out and buy food.”

Hall has the cheapest meal plan at $982.50 with access to 10 of the 23 weekly meals offered.

Freshmen Kristy David said she thinks of the plan more as a convenience for her.

“The Sodexo/Marriott meal plan is quite costly; however, for convenience sake, it’s superb,” David said.

Contact Stefanie Green at oraclestefanie@yahoo.com