Resident Assistants (RAs) no longer have to struggle to ration meal swipes or budget dining dollars this semester as Housing and Residential Education reenacted its Any 15 meal plan — the same one RAs had before the pandemic.
In an internal email to RAs on Monday morning, Assistant Dean and Director of Residential Education Julie Leos said the change will officially go into effect Tuesday. The upgrade will be applied for the remainder of the fall as well as the entire spring semester.
The Any 15 plan gives RAs 15 meal swipes per week and they will receive $150 dining dollars to use for the rest of the semester. Any “egregious” dining dollar spendings from Monday to Tuesday, however, would be billed separately to each RA’s personal account.
To add more dining dollars, RAs must contact USF Dining Services directly and pay the addition. If RAs had already upgraded their meal plans prior to the announcement, Leos advised them to contact the department separately for any arrangements.
The amount of dining dollars to be given in the spring semester has yet to be announced.
For the fall semester, RAs initially had to choose between Bull Block 125, which would include 125 meal swipes and no dining dollars, or Bull Block 60 with 60 swipes and $350 dining dollars, according to an internal email to RAs on Aug. 18. Leos asked RAs to submit their preferences in a survey by Aug. 19 and, if no responses were submitted, they would automatically be assigned Bull Block 60.
Neither Leos nor Assistant Vice President of Housing and Residential Education Ana Hernandez were available to comment by the time of publication.
Meal plans for RAs suffered a drastic setback in fall 2020 when Housing and Residential Education downgraded it from Any 15 to Bull Block 60. This was due to a “decline in occupancy for the year,” Leos said in an Aug. 21, 2020 email.
The email rapidly caused an uproar among RAs, according to an anonymous source directly affected by the change. A few days later, in response to the backlash, Leos retracted her initial decision to provide RAs with a partial plan and reinstated Any 15 for the semester. The change, however, didn’t guarantee RAs the same meal plan — or one at all — for spring 2021.
“I want to be clear with you today that [reenacting Any 15] does not mean there has been any change to our financial concerns,” Leos said in an Aug. 25, 2020 email. “It also doesn’t mean this or any meal plan is guaranteed for spring 2021.
“As we make the difficult decision moving forward, we will do our best to give you notice of any changes so that you can make decisions for what is best for you.”
RAs were left with the option to either take whatever meal plan was offered or pay an extra fee to upgrade to a plan that would better fit their needs. If not content with the few swipes for the semester, RAs would have to spend anywhere between $600 and $2,120 for other meal plan options.
Leos justified the decision to downgrade meal plans due to the financial implications the department was facing as a result of the pandemic.
On-campus living suffered a 41% decline from 2019 to 2020, with 57% occupancy in the fall 2020 semester compared to 98% occupancy in the fall 2019 semester, as previously reported by The Oracle.
The St. Pete campus’s total housing occupancy was around 33% in fall 2020.
With a decrease in occupancy, Housing and Residential Education had a projected $4 million loss in funds for housing operations for the Tampa campus, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Nick Trivunovich said in fall 2020. The loss for the St. Pete campus ranged between $1.5 and $2 million.
Once the state began lifting mitigation measurements around COVID-19 and the university announced March 3 its plan for a full return to in-person classes, on-campus housing was back in the spotlight.
The high demand for on-campus housing for the fall 2021 semester helped ease the department’s financial worries by reaching full capacity across all of its residence halls on the Tampa and St. Pete campuses.
While RAs are in the clear through the spring 2022 semester, details have yet to be announced by the department about the future of RA meal plans.