Changes coming next fall to University of Arizona student dining options

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Carly Markovich | The Daily Wildcat

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. 

Starting in fall 2023, all first-year Wildcats living on the University of Arizona campus will be required to purchase a meal plan. 

University officials said the requirement is intended to better support bringing healthier dining options that people hope to see on campus.

Here’s what students can expect next fall.

What’s changing?

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First-year students who live on campus will be required to purchase a meal plan, costing between $3,880 and $6,510 annually.

The meal plans include nine to 18 meals, dining dollars, Cat Ca$h and guest meal passes.

Debit plans, commuter plans and Cat Ca$h do not apply to the meal plan requirement. Honors Village Meal Plans have been required for two years and still apply to students living in the W.A. Franke Honors College.

“Having a mandatory meal plan requirement will allow the university to act on changes,” Marites John, assistant director of the Student Unions’ Retail & Contract Management, said. “With the support of meal plans, it provides a structure to quickly change dining options for what students need.” 

Arizona Student Unions this semester are introducing several healthier dining options largely in response to student requests. Cactus Grill reopened as an all-you-can-eat restaurant, and a new spot called Radicchio will open as a plant-based all-you-can-eat restaurant.  

John said having the meal plan requirement will give the Arizona Student Unions more flexibility in making similar changes.

“If we’re able to make that change ourselves, we can be much more nimble and responsive to what students need,” John said. “It provides a structure to do more for our students.” 

John said future plans include adding more grocery items to Highland Market.

The Arizona Student Unions worked with a student advisory board over the course of several years to develop this change. 

“It wasn’t overnight,” John said. "Student opinion was included in making this change so they can change what people want to see, including more communication." 

The Arizona Student Unions will provide monthly updates through email on the 15th about their meal plan balance. The email will explain how to access that balance and where to use the funds.

“We will be actively and proactively communicating with all of our meal plan holders,” John said. “We’re going to give students ideas and opportunities of how to use meal plans, so there’s not a lot lost.”

Why it’s changing

This change will support the Arizona Student Union’s operations, and all money going into the Student Union will stay there, according to John. She also said there isn’t a surplus of money that the Arizona Student Unions are pocketing.

“This isn’t a gotcha moment for students,” John said. “The numbers didn’t add up, and we needed to be able to cover our costs, literally just our costs.”

The university wants to encourage more socialization on campus, too. John said the best gathering place for people is around food, and meal plans are essential for that on campus. 

They are taking input from multiple sources, according to John. They have talked to Residence Housing Association students directly through feedback forms and the advisory board to develop this plan and put it in place. 

The UA plan is inspired by other universities that follow a similar setup. Both Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University require meal plans for first-year students living on campus.  

Students’ well-being is the top priority

John said that the Arizona Student Unions want to make sure that all students have access to meals throughout the year.

Around 22% of students at UA are dealing with food insecurity, according to Ashley Munro, a dietician at UA Campus Health. The Arizona Student Unions think requiring a meal plan will help combat that. 

The Arizona Student Unions are committed to starting a scholarship fund for students who cannot afford the meal plan, John said. 

Scholarships already given by the university will apply to the meal plan, too, since it is an education expense, although tuition, books and some other costs are prioritized first.

There also may be a tier lower cost meal plans on a need basis for students who cannot afford the regular ones, according to John.

“There will be systems of support. Both financial support and a different tier of plans so students can still have access to food that they need while they’re here on campus,” she said. 

University officials said they will implement a way for students to opt-out of the meal plan if they join Greek Life, which offers a separate meal plan.

“We don’t want to sweep the money,” John said. “We want it to be used because if we’re sweeping the money, we are wasting a lot of food and labor, and that’s not good for anybody. Get the plan you need and use it accordingly.”

The Student Union’s website offers ways for students to provide feedback and share what they want to see on campus as well.

Other Previous Changes

In January 2021, the Meal Plan office decided that all meal plan funds, Cat Ca$h and swipes will expire at the end of the academic year.

John said the amount of food wasted in the past was part of the decision to change meal plan policies. Even though they are finding ways around throwing away food, like flash freezing it and donating to Campus Pantry, there is still enough that a change was necessary.


*El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism. 


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