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Concerns arise on mandatory meal plan for first-year UA residents

Students+wait+in+line+to+take+their+order+and+then+wait+to+get+their+food+at+the+Chick-fil-a+at+the+Student+Union+Memorial+Center.+The+Chick-fil-a+is+a+popular+place+for+students+to+grab+lunch.%26nbsp%3B
Carly Markovich

Students wait in line to take their order and then wait to get their food at the Chick-fil-a at the Student Union Memorial Center. The Chick-fil-a is a popular place for students to grab lunch. 

The University of Arizona’s new mandatory meal plan has been implemented this fall semester. Newly enrolled freshmen and all future first-year resident students will now be automatically enrolled in the Santa Rita Meal Plan. While it is the second most affordable meal plan option offered by the school, its annual cost of $5,090 remains a significant expense for students. 

The additional cost seems to create concerns for first-year students who are unable to opt out of the meal plan, even if financially insecure.

Not only are freshmen unable to opt out of this plan, but other students who are not required to have the meal plan still seem to struggle with its refund system. 

Students can upgrade their meal plan without additional charges at any moment, but the option to decline the meal plan continues to pose challenges. Many students in the past have had concerns over the limited choices that the school offers for students to dine and as a result they have chosen not to purchase a meal plan. This new requirement to have one can be seen as unfair not only to low-income students who cannot afford it but also to students with dietary restrictions that have a limited selection. 

A change.org petition circulated in 2022 called for the campus community to tell the UA Student Unions not to follow through with mandatory meal plans. Receiving 354 signatures, the petition was started by Julia Ostberg and cited concerns about meal plan prices, food accessibility, the efficacy of student meal plan waivers and more.

“Freshmen are already overwhelmed with college paperwork, especially first-gen and international students and having to fill out extra forms to buy a meal plan or apply for a waiver will make campus housing inaccessible to those students,” Ostberg noted in the petition. “And since there’s no guarantee that exemptions will be approved and plans for dining improvements are vague, all of the original concerns for harm to the student community still stand.”

Those in charge with overseeing these plans noted that there are some options for students to avoid being encumbered by these charges.

“The committee agreed that offering students who are eligible for the Federal Pell Grant the opportunity to request a partial or full waiver based on their need would be the best way to ensure that students did not face excessive financial burdens,” said Lexi Czopek, the assistant director of meal plan programs.

Czopek also mentioned that a student’s financial aid and scholarships could potentially cover the expense, but it remains problematic since many students find that their financial aid or scholarships are hardly sufficient to meet all their needs.

Members of the first freshman class with this mandatory meal plan continue to express concern over the expense. 

“I don’t think I should be required [to purchase a meal plan]. A lot of students already have a lot to pay so paying more for something I don’t need is a big expense,” said UA freshman Ariyana Flores.

This mandated policy also raises concerns regarding students’ eligibility for refunds in cases of dormitory relocation or withdrawal from school. However, Czopek mentioned that there are options for cancellation for students in these situations. 

“Students who are no longer required to have a Meal Plan are eligible to cancel their plan and receive a refund for the remaining value of the plan which is prorated based on usage,” Czopek said. “A student who withdraws from the University, graduates, moves out of campus housing, or otherwise has a change of status are included.” 

While meal plans do offer a convenient solution for students residing in dorms to access quick and readily available meals, the costs associated with them can occasionally outweigh the advantages for certain students. The cost of the meal plans can be very high and for many freshmen they become an additional strain on top of tuition, housing and other expenses.   

 


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