College considers changing meal plan

By Ellie Rae Craig

One year ago Jim Hoppe, Associate Dean of Students, began working with Residential Life in an effort to make life on-campus better for Macalester’s students. A primary goal of their work was to entice students to live in on-campus housing beyond the two-year minimum. One of the first ideas that would fulfill both of these goals was changing the meal plans and dining options offered to students. “The meal plan options tend to be one of the reasons that I hear from students for moving off campus. That being said, I don’t anticipate changes in the meal plan suddenly bringing a large number of people back to campus who otherwise would have moved off,” Josh Hengemuhle, Residence Hall Director for Bigelow, Wallace and 30 Mac, said. “I think it may help encourage some people to remain on-campus, but those who truly want to live off-campus in their junior and senior years will do so no matter what the meal plan is.”

From what Hoppe has drawn from student reactions to the current meal plans, students are satisfied with the quality of the food presented, but would like to have more freedom to operate when choosing when and where to eat on-campus.

“We’ve looked at other schools that use Bon Appetit and from what we’ve seen, we really have the best quality, in terms of the range, the variety of options presented to students,” Hoppe said.

“From what I’ve seen when visiting other colleges for soccer trips, our food is far superior,” Carson Gorecki ’09 said.

Earlier in the semester, Residence Hall Directors (RHD) and Resident Assistants (RA) working to form Hall Councils went to each floor of the first year dorms one-by-one, in a series of dorm discussions. RHDs and RAs asked questions about what kinds of changes would make life in the Macalester dorms a more positive experience. The dorm discussions also looked to see what kinds of changes would entice students to stay in on-campus housing beyond their sophomore year.

“The dorm discussions helped,” Hoppe said. “Some of the more popular things that students talked about were more on-campus dining options, more flexibility in the meal plans, a greater time frame for meals.”

“I do think that changes to the meal plan would better serve those students who do choose to live on-campus, and that reason alone should be enough to encourage the discussions,” Hengemuhle said.

“Students mostly indicated that they would like to have Café Mac open extended hours at breakfast to accommodate classes that get out at 9:30am and dinner for students who may have academic or athletic commitments that do not permit them to eat during traditional dinner hours,” Megan Hagerty, Residence Hall Director for Dupre, said, when asked about the open forum meetings. “We also discussed the idea of being able to use a ‘guest pass’ to swipe in twice during the same meal period, specifically when having a guest stay with you during the weekends.”

“I think the weekday meal times are pretty decent—it might be nice to have lunch until two o’clock, to get around that class time,” Gorecki said. “It would be better to have the weekend brunch earlier. A lot of people wake up before 10:30.”

An official meeting between the Dean of Students and Bon Appetit has yet to occur. The topics discussed in the dorm conversations have led Hoppe to consider bringing up ideas with the food service contractor, such as extending the lunch and dinner periods, that the administration might not have considered without the help of students.

The goal is to implement some of these changes by Fall 2007. Hoppe is also working with MCSG to implement these changes and gauge student reactions to the dining options on campus.

“I think it is unique that there was a distinct effort to gain student input through these open forums held in each residence hall and discussions with MCSG before going to Bon Appetit to ask for some of the changes,” Hagerty said.

Another one of the ideas brought up during the open forum dorm meetings was the ability to use meal plan points at off-campus dining establishments, but Hoppe said that a change of that magnitude would not be available for at least a year.

Students at St. Thomas can use their meal plans to purchase food at the 128 Café and Davannis, but Macalester would have to reconfigure the entire computer and card system before a similar program could be implemented here.