Auburn’s Interim Director of Dining Jon Waggoner wants to make sure Auburn students know their school is not trying to make things difficult on them, but that it is doing what has been found to be the best option in their studies.
While running into financial problems of his own while on the Plains, he wants students to know the current plan tries to account for students’ difficulties.
“My mission at Auburn was to do everything possible to make dining very easy and convenient for all of our students,” Waggoner said.
Waggoner also said it bothered him to see two students in the Lowder Lounge on July 19 who felt they were being ripped off by the University in relation to their meal plan and felt the best way they could use it was to save it up and give it away. He hopes in the future students will understand the meaning of the meal plan and why the University uses the option that it does.
Waggoner said some schools, like the universities of North Carolina and Georgia, use what is called a board plan, which means students buy a set amount of meals - say, 200 meals for $2,100 - and lose one swipe with each entry into a traditional cafeteria-style hall full of dining options.
These halls may have many stations specializing in different types of food and usually have set hours that they are open.
A plus of this system is the obvious “all-you-can-eat” style buffet that allows the hungriest of students to load multiple platefuls of food and even take boxes home to their dorm. A downside is the “missed meal factor,” which means the price of a meal is actually higher for those who use their cards less frequently than someone who used all of their meal points.
Auburn uses a dining dollars plan with a minimum of $300 required for those living off campus and $900 for those who live on campus.
Waggoner said these numbers were determined by bringing in consultants to study Auburn student’s dining habits. The average student was found to spend approximately $1,800 each semester on food. Assuming off-campus students will choose to stay on-campus for a meal a sixth of the time, and on-campus students will eat there half of the time, dining services came up with these minimums.
Waggoner said a big part of choosing to have a dining dollars type plan is that there is no missed meal factor, and studies show students who spend more time on campus while in school are quicker to graduate and generally make better grades.
Schools like UNC and UGA that do have to deal with a missed meal factor would, in theory, have to raise their meal plan prices significantly if each student used all of the meals they purchased, because not enough food is made to feed each student on a daily basis. Because of this, Waggoner said all of the money left on Auburn students’ cards revert to the University, as opposed to an outside contracted provider.
“We’ve put trucks in their path with really good food,” Waggoner said. “The taco truck and gelato truck are very popular. We’ve opened all these new restaurants.”
The 2009-2010 academic year saw Auburn students leave $219,332 unused, which meant the University “swept” the money and used it in the dining program to help do things like pay down debt on the Village and Foy. The money represented about 2.4% of the total dining dollars Auburn students purchased that August.
In 2010-2011, 2.58% was left unused and swept and this year’s sweep is expected to be about 2.7% when it happens on Wednesday, August 1. This year’s sweep is going to help pay for the Lowder Lounge and other food related renovations in Lowder. Waggoner said the best-case scenario would be a sweep of 0.0% across the board.
Because of Auburn’s many non-traditional students and large off-campus population, Waggoner said he fields many questions about why people are forced into buying meals that they may never use.
“There are two things I say to that: one is that everybody is benefited by this plan according to these studies that are showing higher retention and graduation rates for schools with good on-campus dining. On top of that is the fact that at a school like Auburn that is not a commuter school like UAB or Georgia State, you have to have ways of getting people to eat on campus by having attractive dining halls with good food and the only way of paying for that is either a tuition hike or meal plans.”
“Everybody from President Obama to our University President Gogue has focused on retention rates and trying to get everybody through college as quickly and at the lowest cost as is possible,” Waggoner said. “What we’re doing with food service is trying to keep students near their studies and their teachers.”
As for pricing, the national franchises that operate on campus look into the region’s market to see what the average price for each ingredient or item is, and then the University allows them no more than a 5 percent markup to help cover the shipping and other labor costs that are higher on a college campus than they would be at your average restaurant franchise.
Again, the sweep will be done Wednesday, August 1, which means if you have any money left on your card, make sure to use it by Tuesday, July 31, or it will not be reclaimable. It might also just help build our next on-campus restaurant.
One such project is a new cafeteria-style Wellness Dining Kitchen in the works by Plainsman Park and the new parking deck that will specialize in healthy food options and a high protein diet to cater to the athletes’ needs while also being open to other students.