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October 4, 2022

The university hopes to return to full capacity in the near future / Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The University of Minnesota credits all students living in residence halls with 50% of their monthly dining costs for September.

The credit comes as a result of reduced service hours and menu options available during the month, according to a statement. The university cited staff shortages as the reason for the fewer hours and options.

The meal credit will be automatically applied to student accounts this week, and the university says it will continue to evaluate its performance each month to determine if additional credits are needed. In addition, the university said it hopes to return to full capacity in the near future.

“Like many in our industry, and across the nation, we are facing unprecedented labor shortages that have made hiring challenging. While we were prepared for this, and started early, we still faced labor shortages that in turn have required us to temporarily reduce the hours of operation in our dining halls,” said Dawn Aubrey, vice president of operations at M Food Co, the university’s food service provider, in an email sent to all meal plan holders.

In addition, Aubrey said M Food Co. has deployed additional efforts, such as hiring as many students as possible, to support staffing needs.

This development is unique because many universities tend to resist adjusting meal plan policies or giving large-scale refunds, even in the face of student pushback.

In 2016, an audit at Kennesaw State University revealed that off-campus students paid $2 million for uneaten meals, angering commuter students who still have to pay for meal plans. Kennesaw State does not refund unused meals.

Some students take issue with mandatory meal plans, citing financial burdens and dietary restrictions as difficulties, and petitions for meal plan changes are nothing new. In 2018, students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison protested the school’s mandatory meal plans. The university eventually adjusted its policy to allow students with dietary restrictions to opt out.

Some universities have adjusted their policies to respond to challenges such as overcrowding in dining halls. In 2018, Purdue University allowed students to use meal plan swipes at retail locations to calculate overpayment.

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