Students provide feedback on new meal plan options offered last year

By Thomas Julian

While it may seem like ages ago, it was just one year ago that Ashland University announced changes that would completely overhaul their student meal plan selection. A full year after those monumental changes, students have been able to evaluate the new plans and reflect on their effectiveness.

Last year, Dining Services switched student’s meal plans from a weekly meal allowance format to a 240-block meal format with equivalency swipes for use in Convo, the Eagles’ Nest, Tuffy’s Smoothie Bar and the newly created Schar Café.

General Manager of Dining Operations Fred Geib mentioned in previous issues of The Collegian that the new meal plan was to give students more variety and freedom.

Students have been given the opportunity to exercise their new culinary freedom and variety, and have developed their own opinions about the meal plans. Forty AU students who have held meal plans over this past year were surveyed and asked to gauge their satisfaction with the changes, dining services as a whole and each individual dining location on campus.

Overall, there was not a single person that was unhappy with the changes that were made in the meal plans.

Junior Henry Wessel has been here for both the old meal plan and the new meal plan, and said he prefers the new meal plan.

“The amount of freedom using swipes in the (Eagles’) Nest, Tuffy’s and Schar Café given to students is amazing,” Wessel said. “While the swipe only gives you $6.50 at each location, it is definitely enough to make a full meal.”

While some students have loved the freedom as well as the ability to use meals whenever they want during a semester, others have praised the location and ease of their schedule.

Amanda Heyder, a junior early childhood education major, has loved the location of the new Schar Café.

“Being an education major, it often is hard to make it to Convo especially when you have night class,” Heyder said. “It is so convenient to be able to grab a drink and food during the class break that you never have to worry about sneaking a meal at Convo in before class.”

Although students have been generally happy about the changes in the meal plan, many students still find themselves complaining about the price for a meal plan as well as the amount of choices offered.

The cost of the top meal plan, the list of dining options available, and the terms of the meal plan for ten small universities in Ohio, comparable to Ashland University, was compiled. Below is a chart that compares Ashland to these schools in price.

Overall, Ashland has a very comparable, if not favorable, plan compared to most of the campuses. While it does not have many dining options, its price is in the low to average range, while offering more freedom and product for your penny.

While schools like Tiffin University, Oberlin College, Lake Erie College, and the University of Findlay still utilize plans on the weekly format (such as Ashland two years ago), other schools such as Otterbein University and Wittenberg University are utilizing very similar plans to Ashland’s current plan.

The most interesting meal plan of the schools benchmarked was Baldwin-Wallace’s “Eat What You Pay For” plan. In their plan, students receive 2,200 Flex Dollars (comparable to Eagle Dollars) and use them for 16 weeks. They expect students would spend $100 a week on food and use $620 on books for the semester. While this is a more constraining plan financially, it still offers a lot of freedom especially with their seven dining options.

Yet, with this research compiled, Ashland’s meal plan is very favorably priced and gives students more value for their money than almost all comparable schools.

Students have raved about the equivalency plans that have given them more options and, in turn, made Convo a lot less crowded. However, several students have felt the quality of Convo has decreased with the emphasis on other locations.

The same above survey then asked respondents to rank their satisfaction with Dining Services overall: Convo, the Eagles’ Nest, Schar Café and Tuffy’s Smoothie Bar on a scale of one (lowest) to ten (highest). Along with their individual rating, the survey also prompted participants to provide feedback with reasoning behind their grade.

While Student Dining overall received high marks due to their recent meal plan switches, Convo did not receive as high of marks (6.5) with students.

Senior Brittany Curry said that Convo is on the right track, however needs some important core changes.

“I love the food, however I feel like there are not enough healthy options aside from Salad Bar and the Rotisserie Station at times,” Curry said. “Along with that, the hours on weekends are very inconvenient to students. They really could extend the time and even adept the continuous service.”

While some students agree with Curry, others feel that the lack of variety have held it back from being elite. Sophomore Elizabeth Waxter has already begun to feel the repetition.

“As a freshman I liked it a lot,” Waxter said, “but towards the end of last semester, I didn’t feel like there was that much variety and a lot of the meals were repeated over and over again.”

Students seemed to voice their concerns with Convo, but were generally upbeat about how the Eagles’ Nest has been revamped due to the meal plan switch. While some concerns have been raised due to lines, the lack of being prepared and leftover meals at the end of the semester, the Eagles’ Nest has worked hard to learn from the first semester and adapt.

Byron Reyna-Corzo, sophomore student and employee of the Eagles’ Nest, has been impressed with the improvements.

“The Eagles’ Nest is a great place to add variety to your collegiate diet,” Reyna-Corzo said. “I truly enjoy the customizable orders from the Nest. There is variety there; you just have to make it.”

While some have complained about the lines that develop in the Nest, Reyna-Corzo feels that the service time is actually excellent.

“As an employee, we try extremely hard to get our customers their food as quickly as possible,” Reyna Corzo said. “Most of the time it is students making food for other students, so you have to understand that they are not professional. We try our best to give great customer service and feel we are accomplishing that.”

Along with the Nest, Schar Café is receiving rave reviews from those who have been able to use it. The largest complaint is from those who have no ability to use it due to its location in the Schar College of Education. Students also praised the Café for being one of the few places on-campus to truly offer healthy alternatives. This combination allowed the new Schar Café to earn a 7.5 out of 10 satisfaction rating.

The largest surprise in the survey was the satisfaction in the underutilized Tuffy’s Smoothie Bar. While Tuffy’s used to be a place to grab a smoothie once a semester, equivalency has transformed it into an elite option.

Senior Olivia Huff is an employee of Tuffy’s Smoothie Bar and has seen the improvements first hand.

“It’s amazing how many people have been utilizing Tuffy’s now that they can grab a smoothie and trail mix for a meal swipe,” Huff said. “The best part is that our ingredients are very fresh and our customers appreciate that.”

While Tuffy’s has been receiving high praises, sophomore Thomas Burford has noticed a mathematical issue that would improve sales at Tuffy’s.

“Smoothies currently cost $3.50 which means buying two of them is over a meal swipe,” Burford said. “If smoothies only cost $3.25, you would be able to get two for a meal swipe which would really help wasted swipes at Tuffy’s”

Ashland University’s Student Dining is attempting to consistently improve especially in comparison to schools in direct competition. While students have identified several areas that should be addressed in each dining venue, overall Dining Services is a very popular department on campus.

Senior Henry Wessel is confident that Dining Services will continue to listen to students to make the necessary improvements.

“Overall, they have listened to our complaints in the past and have even introduced a text system to listen to our opinion,” Wessel said.

“When Grilled Cheese Friday disappeared, they listened to students and brought it back. In the end, I am confident that small tweaks will continue to be made to continue our status as an elite university for dining.,” Wessel said.