UA introduces first mandatory meal plan for incoming Honors Village residents
Dining Services Attendant, Dyana McPherson, swipes a catcard for payment. The new Honors Village features a new meal swipe plan for students.
This August, over 1,000 University of Arizona students moved into the newly completed Honors Village — all were required to buy a newly designed swipe-based meal plan.
The plan has faced criticism in the past from members of UA’s student government, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, who worried about its cost-effectiveness and impact on accessibility at the already expensive Village.
Meal swipes offer reliability, have constraints
“Swipe-based meal programs are common,” said Terry Hunt, dean of the Honors College. “They give students flexibility as to when and how they use funds for meals.”
Village residents will be automatically enrolled in one of two swipe-based meal plans depending on their dorm layouts at the cost of $1,820 or $5,280. Students can upgrade or downgrade their meal plan based on their dorm style.
“The cost of the meal plan options were calculated based off a $10 cost per swipe,” said Jonathan Millay, senior director of the Arizona Student Unions.
According to Millay, Village residents will be able to use their swipes at any of the Student Union’s existing restaurants as well as the Village’s new cafeteria-style dining spaces, which will offer healthy and food-allergy friendly options.
Every meal plan will also come with CatCash, which can be used to pay for meals or other services at certain off-and-on campus locations in lieu of using a swipe.
Some swipe-based meal plans are only available to honors students; however, three other swipe-based meal plans of similar prices are available to all UA students.
“One of our highest priorities is that access to the Honors Village and Honors College is possible for all, regardless of financial need,” Hunt said. “A swipe is a little cheaper per meal than what you would pay out of pocket. It also creates reliability for students.”
For students in single or double-bed dorm rooms, the Ocotillo plan will provide 15 meal swipes a week and $400 in CatCash at the cost of $5,280. These 15 swipes will not be rolled over but rather refreshed every week.
The Ocotillo plan can be upgraded to the Saguraro meal plan with 18 weekly swipes, for a total price of $6,060 or downgraded to the to the eight weekly swipes of the Agave plan for a total price of $3,100.
For students in apartment-style suites, the Prickly Pear plan will provide five meal swipes a week and $200 in CatCash at the cost of $1,820. The Prickly Pear can be upgraded to any Honors Village dorm meal plan as well.
Honors Village amenities come at a price
The price tag for students living in the Village for two academic semesters will run anywhere from $11,950 to $18,610 depending on students’ choice of meal plan and dorm layout, some of the highest costs of living on campus.
While being the first dorm on campus to offer apartment-style suite living, the Village will also include cafeteria-style dining spaces, its own health and recreation facilities and faculty offices and classrooms for the Honors College.
“The Honors Village will have a large dining room open to the public and buffet-style choices,” Hunt said. “Upstairs, there will be an honors-only dining facility for students to meet and work over meals.”
The Village is a private-public development partnership with American Campus Communities. In exchange for building and maintaining the Village, UA gives ACC the rent it collects from students, Hunt said. ACC cannot independently set the price of Village rooms for students.
According to Millay, the Honors College and Student Union choose to implement a meal plan requirement in order to foster community among Village residents.
Hunt characterized the requirement as the best way for the Student Union to provide quality food at affordable costs for students in the new residence hall.
“The swipe-based meal plan requirement is a little like Obamacare: If we all participate, it is cheaper for everyone,” Hunt said. “This creates predictability for food services to best serve students.”
The requirement also traces back to the Student Union’s debt service payments on the Village, a stipulation of their use of the newly built dining space.
Village residents with extreme food allergies or required meal plans through Greek Life houses can request a meal plan requirement exemption through the Student Union according to Millay.
Despite its cost, every room at the Village has been reserved.
“The enthusiasm for the Honors Village caught us off guard,” Hunt said.
The Village, which serves as a cornerstone of Hunt’s plan to transform the college, has also helped generate a dramatic increase in student interest in honors generally. Applications for the college increased 50% for the next academic year, according to Hunt.
Concerns over accessibility, exclusivity
“The meal plan requirement is a cost many students cannot afford, a cost that could hinder their honors experience,” said Sedona Lynch, former ASUA senator for the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and a vocal critic of the plan during an April Senate briefing by the Student Union.
According to Lynch, students were not involved in the conversation to require Village residents purchase a meal plan. Millay confirmed this.
Lynch worries that the added cost of living in the Village will push honors students away from the complex and into other dorms, something that could fracture the honors community.
“My freshman year, I was in the Honors College but did not live in Árbol de la Vida [one of the two previous Honors dorms],” Lynch said. “My experience in the honors community was drastically different.”
According to David Scott Allen, a special adviser to Hunt, the Honors College has introduced new scholarships with the goal of increasing access to the Village.
“[The Honors College] raised funds to give scholarships for the Honors Village,” Allen said in an email. “Additionally, Dean Hunt gave $100,000 from his Dean’s Fund for Excellence to give [need-based] scholarships.”
Next semester, 26 freshmen will receive a $2,500 scholarship as part of the program.
Hunt also pushed back against an originally planned Starbucks swipe kiosk, whose cost was to be built into student meal plans.
“I said no, ‘that is too expensive,’” Hunt said. “We don’t want students to have to pay 10 dollars for a cup of coffee.”
Nevertheless, Lynch and others with experience in ASUA argue the swipe-based meal plan is not as cost-effective as it is being made out to be.
According to Millay, if students use all of their meal plan swipes, they will be netting a 20% discount on food.
UA implemented a swipe-based meal plan last academic year, advertised as a healthier alternative. Millay said that while the Student Unions’ swipe-based systems worked smoothly, many students did not use all of their swipes.
Millay attributed the lack of use to a need to better inform students about the plan’s design. The Student Union plans to do outreach in the Village to ensure students make the most of their plans.
“All cashiers and restaurant managers will be trained on the new [honors’] swipe-based plan. Meal plan teams will be available in the Village to help students,” Millay said.
Any meal plan money left unspent by honors students will be distributed evenly between the university’s general fund, student affairs services, Student Union facilities and future dining service investments. None will go to ACC or the Honors College, according to Millay.
For some honors students the price tag is still too high and they have chosen not to live in the Village. According to Hunt, though, these students will still have access to the Village and its facilities.
The Village will serve as the epicenter for honors events and activities, providing all honors students the opportunity to connect with the community, according to Hunt.
Many from ASUA, like Lynch, worry the new Village will isolate the honors community from UA, a common criticism against other honors colleges.
“The Village is so far away from other dorms and buildings, it can keep students in one area and create a sense of elitism,” Lynch said.
Not limited to the Village, Millay believes the meal plan will not isolate students but allow them to branch out into campus.
After becoming dean, Hunt canceled plans to hire additional honors-specific faculty, opting instead to reach out to successful professors in colleges around campus to enhance the honors curriculum.
“[The Honors College] will physically be on one corner of campus, but we are making sure our courses and curriculum are well-distributed across campus,” Hunt said.
Hunt wants to see an integrated, not isolated, honors program that serves students from all majors.
According to Hunt, as the Honors College and Village become more and more popular, the percentage of students accepted into the program will decrease.
While this increase in competition may boost national rankings, many in ASUA worry access to honors at the UA will suffer.
“We are really mindful of the problems using simplistic algorithms in our admissions process,” Hunt said. “We want to use a holistic means of evaluating student potential. This year’s class is one of our most diverse.”
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