In accordance with new federal regulations concerning food and housing costs, the University will be removing meal plan Option D for the fall of 2023.
The U.S. Department of Education released the terms of the FAFSA Simplification Act in November of last year, which includes new guidelines for both housing and dining on-campus. These guidelines will come into effect this fall.
Specifically, the act requires that the University provide “a standard food allowance that provides the equivalent of three meals each day.” According to Associate Dean of College Enrollment and Director of Financial Aid Sam Veeder, meal plan Option D did not meet this requirement.
On top of the new federal regulations, Option D also often failed to meet student needs.
“There’s multiple factors going on here, that all came together at once,” Veeder said. ”We had been, over several years now, dealing with some food insecurities issues that were increasing.”
As of the 2022-2023 academic year, Option D cost $1,311 per semester — nearly $1,500 less than the next lowest declining meal plan — and provided $1,006 in declining.
This allowance failed to provide the “three meals a day, seven days a week, for the 30-week academic year” required by federal regulation, Veeder said.
However, the University is also focused on addressing food insecurity. According to Veeder, Option D was “leaving students turning to the Basic Needs Hub and the Food Pantry in increasing volume.”
The Food Pantry provides students with need-blind access to a variety of non-perishable goods.
Similarly, Basic Needs Hub connects students with “short-term, temporary financial assistance in unanticipated or emergency situations.” Unlike the Pantry, however, the Hub helps students with a demonstrable need, and is intended for one-time, emergency use.
According to data supplied by Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Deputy to the Dean Emily Cihon Fehnel, both the Basic Needs Hub and the Food Pantry see regular student traffic.
Between July 1, 2022, and February 9, 2023, there were a total of 1,404 visits to the Food Pantry. In spring of 2022 alone, “nearly 300 [undergraduate Arts, Sciences, & Engineering] students visited the pantry”, with this group being the highest user group of the service.
The Basic Needs Hub approved 280 requests during the fall of last year, according to Fehnel, with nearly 75% related to food support.
Fehnel also referenced Option D’s inability to sufficiently provide for students — an inability that leads many to turn to the Hub and the Pantry.
As of mid-Feb 2023, 50% of students on Option D are on trajectory to run out of money before the semester ends, based on declining balance at that time, she told the Campus Times.
Fehnel stressed that a number of students have approached the University with concerns about Option D — namely, that it was not enough.
“We’ve known for a while that that’s not really a sustainable option for our students,” Fehnel said. “That Option D is not a full meal plan, if you want to just utilize that to take care of your eating needs.”
The switch to Option C will ultimately provide more food, according to Veeder.
“There’s costs associated with that increase, because more food will be provided to students, which was the goal,” she said. “We’re addressing the significant concerns that have been happening, especially this year, with students not having enough food on Option D.”
Despite the removal of Option D, and the subsequent increase in meal plan costs as students switch over to Option C and higher, financial aid packages are also expected to increase.
University meal plans are connected to housing assignments, and financial aid is based on both of these factors. According to Veeder, the whole cost of Option C will be used in determining financial aid packages for the coming semester.
“Many students who qualify will have the whole cost of Option C covered,” Veeder said. “Some students with lower financial need may have to pay a portion of it, and then students who aren’t on financial aid will have to bear that additional cost.
Nevertheless, doubts about the University’s decision remain.
The sharp increase in per semester costs is a prominent talking point among a number of parents’ groups on platforms like Facebook, often accompanied by a sense of frustration or outrage.
Parents pointed out that, for many students, Option D was more than enough. For students with ample access to a kitchen, cooking was an easy way to supplement their declining — and would financial aid truly cover the additional costs?
Since financial aid packages are allocated on a case-by-case basis, there is concern about the increase in aid for Option C being canceled out by changes in other factors, such as income or assets.
Students are encouraged to reach out to their personal financial aid counselors with any questions about how this change will impact their financial aid.