By Alex Inman and Erin Flynn
For the upcoming Fall 2022 semester, Merrimack College made an unannounced change to the college’s meal plan. These changes sparked backlash within the Merrimack College community leading to a petition being formed.
In the previous two academic years, Merrimack College’s meal plan accommodations helped students adapt to COVID-19 protocols with ease, so that is why the sudden change surprised the college community.
Within the Merrimack College 2020-2021 Return to Campus handbook, the college explained the reasons behind the changes: “To reduce the need to travel off campus and to maintain a safe and varied campus dining experience for students, the College has created universal meal plans for all residential students. While the price is the same, the meal plan offers more options for students between swipe meals and Mack Bucks. Additionally, Mack Bucks can be used to order groceries”.
Now within the current academic year, the college has increased the price of room and board (meal plan included) yet are leaving students with fewer dining options. What once used to be extra money for groceries is now being charged without the benefits.
While the school boasts about an abundance of on-campus dining options, many of the options are closed due to weather or because of the lack of staff. Locations such as Majors and Minors, Mindful Mack, and the wood-fired oven, which were student favorite dining options on campus, have not been open for the start of the semester.
For the amount of students that go to Merrimack College having fewer dining options is not feasible. The school consistently has two available dining options on campus which are Sparky’s Dining Hall (as pictured above) and The Den with all other options being closed on weekends.
The current available meal plans include Meal Plan A, which is 19 meals per week plus $50 Dining Dollars, Meal Plan B which is 13 meals per week plus $200 Dining Dollars, and Meal Plan C which is 7 meals per week plus $450 Dining Dollars.
With a large portion of students paying higher room and board fees to live in housing with kitchen access, students are finding it difficult to afford groceries in addition to paying for their required meal plan.
Merrimack student Kayla Thibodeau took on the responsibility of voicing the students’ frustration with the unexpected meal plan change through a change.com petition. On the front page of the petition, Thibodeau states “Not only have we lost our ability to use our Mackbucks off campus (such as at Panera, Whole Foods, CVS, etc), but we have also lost the amount of
Mackbucks we had in previous years… As a community we are all very disappointed and wish to create a change in the plan or go back to the original meal plan”.
This petition now carries over 1400 signatures, vocalizing the overwhelming negativity held towards these changes within the Merrimack College community.
Merrimack Student Anna Pellerin stated her opinion on the meal plan switch: “Because they took away MackBucks, people living in the senior apartments and Royal Crest now have to pay out of pocket for groceries instead of having money set aside for Whole Foods. So now I’m basically working just to pay for groceries instead of saving the money I earn from my internship”.
With the popularity of the petition among the Merrimack College community, the administration responded with a meeting which led to this statement from Thibodeau: “Although what was said and explained made sense from a budget/financial standpoint, it still disappoints us. It does not seem that anything will change in the future, but possibly the fact that they are looking at the usage of Mackbucks at the bookstore once again”.
As it stands, the meal plans are not going to change back to how they were during the COVID-19 era . Even with the popularity of the petition, the financial budget of the school does not allow for the extra accommodations to student’s plans. With the school changing these meal plans at the last minute, it left students feeling at a disadvantage financially, with little time to prepare for the upcoming school year.