Eric Zavinski – Editor in Chief
CLARION, Pa- Meal plans affect hundreds of students on campus, and recent student focus groups may have played a significant part in evolving the way food is handled at Clarion University.
Chartwells, the company that caters and operates all food vendors on campus from Eagle Commons to The Den, hosted focus groups filled with students in late November in order to understand what changes the student body might want to see in regards to meal plans.
Currently, meal plans are offered for students living on and off campus in a few different packages, with set numbers of board payments and flex dollars per week.
Senior Director of Dining Services Jeffrey MacTaggart said the focus groups were imperative because less students are taking advantage of meal plans in recent years, despite this school year’s rise in overall enrollment. Enrollment rose because of an increase in online students; however, “heads in beds” or students living on campus continues to decrease.
“We know it needs changed,” said MacTaggart. “I just think there needs to be more choices.”
Clarion Chartwells Marketing Manager Kelly Dungan took initiative with MacTaggart to host focus groups made up of students living on campus since most students who have meal plans also live in university housing.
One major change many students brought up is the removal of meal zones, meaning that if a student was to have three possible board payments for a day (for breakfast, lunch and dinner), they would not miss out on spending one board if they missed chances to get food in the currently designated times.
Presently, breakfast runs in Chartwells establishments from when they open until 10:30 a.m., lunch takes over from then on until 3 p.m., and dinner runs for the rest of the day.
If meal zones were to be abolished, students could theoretically eat all three meals after 3 p.m., among many other possibilities. The focus groups’ students cited having irregular schedules and busy mornings as reason to want to get rid of meal zones.
Another potential change was discussed and entertained by MacTaggart. A fourth meal zone at The Den and other university eateries could begin at 9 p.m. and last until 1 a.m.
The Den and Starbucks, larger brands associated with the university, could see more business in the future. An idea was brought up to have board payments count for less than the normal amount at these establishments instead of not being allowed to be used at these places at all.
Only about 1,500 Clarion students have meal plans, with most of that number including on-campus students who are required to have meal plans. MacTaggart would like to see 50 percent of the student population having meal plans in the future.
More flexibility in meal plan options seems to be the student consensus, especially for commuter students, in order for meal plans to be more effective.
Chartwells is aiming to have some changes implemented for the 2018-19 academic year, which would be the earliest possible time changes could be made for incoming students.
Many students also said they would be willing to pay more or different amounts for meal plans in order to have more options.
Now that focus groups have finished sharing ideas, Chartwells wants the entire student body to take a survey in order to pinpoint potential changes to meal plans.
You can take the survey here.