Kean Meal Plans: No Longer a Forced Purchase

By Sade Cox

Many New Jersey colleges and universities will soon ban the enforcement of default meal plan purchases while attending school.

On Nov 13, 2014, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union) proposed the bill (A2811) that passed under the state Assembly. Which, prohibited four-year public and independent higher education institutions, from requiring students to purchase meal plans and permit the schools to only offer meal plans in the form of a spending allowance.

The executive director of New Jersey’s Association of State Colleges and Universities, Dr. Michael Klein, JD, Ph.D. issued a statement via email clarifying,

“The bill would prohibit the variety of meal plans offered to students at four-year public and independent colleges and universities. The only type of meal plan that an institution could offer its students is one designed as a spending allowance, which works similar to a bank debit card. Each time the student makes a purchase, the total would be subtracted from the balance of the student’s account.”

The bill requires schools to offer flexible prepaid meal plans which will allow students get a refund at the end of the year from unused balances.

“The cost of meals for both a meal plan system and a pay-as-you-go will cost more than it does now. Right now the food service contractors know at the beginning of each academic year, the student population needs meals and they can price and prepare their budgets accordingly,” said Klein. “Without a core group of participants, the contractors will have less predictability pricing their products with certainty, leading to higher prices.”

Gourmet Dining, the food service used at Kean University, was contacted several times for comment. However, there was no response.

Gourmet Dining and Kean University have developed a flexible meal plan option that caters to student campus lifestyles. Kean University offers two types of payment plans, Cougar Dollars and Flex Dollars for purchasing meals on campus.

Cougar dollars are for students who want the freedom to purchase beverages, snacks or meals anytime from campus eateries. The Flex Plan is designed for students who lived on campus to purchase meal plans that are convenient. Flex dollars are a suitable system which allows you to deposit a dollar amount onto your Cougar ID card and use it as a debit card.

Unlike the meal plans, which are used on a week-by-week or semester basis, Flex dollars are valid throughout the academic year. Flex dollars are rolled over from semester-to-semester and any unused Flex dollars are reimbursed at the end of the spring semester.

Students receiving financial aid usually enroll in this plan after using excess financial aid funds or student loans to purchase a Flex Plan.

According to the email, Klein believes the students who are enrolled in these meal plans will not receive the nutrition that it is needed to be a productive student.

“Nutritionally, I believe students will suffer.  Studies have shown that students who are worried about getting food can develop physical and mental illnesses, and perform less well academically, including getting lower grade point averages,” Klein said. “Students will need to find places to cook and store food safely, which can lead to more health and safety issues.”

In terms of cost, at the end of the semester, if there are any funds remaining in his or her account, a student would have the option of either receiving a refund or having the remaining funds “rolled over” into the student’s spending allowance for the following semester,” Klein said.

According to Gourmet’s Dinning website, meal plans for fall 2014 and spring 2015 are offered through continuous dining plans for freshman, sophomores and upperclassman. Continuous dining plans are offered through four unlimited plans.

Plan 1 is$1,660/per semester equivalent to 100 Cougar Dollars. Plan 2 is $1,760/per semester equivalent 200 Cougar Dollars. Plan 3 is $1,860/per semester, equivalent too 300 Cougar Dollars and Plan 4 is $1,960/per semester, equivalent 400 Cougar Dollars.

For sophomores and upperclassmen it is $1,162/per semester, equivalent 200 Cougar Dollars and $1,162/per semester, equivalent to 300 Cougar Dollars.

At Kean University, students have the option to change their meal plan selection within the first 21 days of the semester. Students can also cancel meal plans and receive a refund calculated on a percentage basis equivalent to the Residence Life cancellation policy. In addition, students can appeal a calculated refund within the semester the meal plan was purchased.

Many college meal plans are all-you-can-eat plans.  Students sign in for a meal, or swipe their ID card, and then can eat whatever they want during the meal time.

Students should be in charge on deciding how many times they would like to eat or choose not to eat. Cutting the cost of including the meal plan in their tuition, can reduce the amount of added cost students endure while attending college.

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