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Blocks refund too little, too late for some Ohio State students

Courtesy of Devon Brown

For some Ohio State students, the refund offer for unused blocks at the end of the semester came too late, leaving them with piles of unwanted Poptarts and Easy Mac.
According to a Nov. 29 email from OSU Dining Services, “at the end of the semester, we will issue a $3 credit for each of your unused blocks and post it to your BuckID cash.”
One block has a $5 value at campus dining locations. The refund will be credited to students’ BuckIDs by Dec. 18.
The email said the change was in response to “questions about your unused blocks” that had come from many students.
The Residence Hall Advisory Council (RHAC) realized there was an issue with students having an excess amount of blocks and worked with Zia Ahmed, senior director of Dining Services, to find a possible solution, resulting in the refund.
Ahmed said in an email the $3 per block refund “represents the maximum amount after considering fixed (and) overhead costs,” of meal plan operations. He said the blocks refund will mark the first time that he is aware Dining Services will compensate students who didn’t utilize their purchased meal plan to the fullest “at least in recent history.”
Jenna Mackey, president of RHAC, said she expects many students will receive some sort of refund and this will cause a financial blow to Dining Services.
“There’s probably a significant number of students who have between 50 and 100 blocks left over,” she said.
For some students, the refund plan announcement didn’t come soon enough.
Devon Brown, a third-year in psychology and sexuality studies, said she spent more than 150 blocks since returning to campus after Thanksgiving.
“I spent all these blocks and then the next morning I get the email,” Brown said. “I would have had almost $500 and now I get nothing.”
Brown said she received an email from Dining Services before leaving for Thanksgiving break telling her the number of blocks she still had and this prompted her to spend them.
She went to campus grocery stores three times and stood in line more than an hour each time.
But for other students the email came as a relief.
“When I received that email, I had about 180 blocks left,” said Chase Ledin third-year in English and sexuality studies. “I tried really hard to get rid of them all, then when I got that email I was like, ‘Oh well, I don’t have to worry so much now.'”
However the refund is “bittersweet,” he said, because “it’s BuckID cash so it’s not like they’re actually refunding it.”
Ahmed said in an email that the refund money is coming from “Student Life’s Dining Services department” and that the amount is unknown because there is no current estimate of how many students will receive refunds.
The university also announced in the Nov. 29 email that a smaller meal plan of 350 blocks will be offered for Spring Semester.
Brown and Ledin both purchased the 450-block plan for Fall Semester but said they will switch to the 350-block plan for spring.
Mackey said the timing of the refund announcement was one of the hardest things RHAC has had to deal with. RHAC began discussing the problem of excess blocks around the end of October.
University administrators knew that if they made the announcement too soon, students would hold on to their blocks and try to get the refund, Mackey said.
The blocks meal plan is new to OSU this academic year with the semester conversion and serves as a replacement to the swipes meal plan.
Students were offered three meal plans for Fall Semester: Unlimited, Block-O and Traditional.
The Unlimited plan consists of unlimited meals at traditional dining locations North, Morrill and Kennedy commons and 10 blocks per week at any other campus eatery. The $2,650 plan also came accompanied with a $150 BuckID deposit.
Two options were available under the Block-O plan: a 600-block plan priced at $2,550 and a 450-block plan for $2,175.
The new 350-block plan will be available for $1,850 and, like the other two Block-O plans, will include a $150 BuckID deposit.
The Traditional plan offers students 19 meals a week at traditional dining locations such as North, Morrill and Kennedy commons along with two additional blocks per week that can be used at other operations. The Traditional plan does not include any BuckID cash and costs $1,737.50.
University Student Government President Taylor Stepp said students with excess blocks is a university-wide problem and an issue USG is also working to reform.
“For parents, for the kids, for whoever is buying these meal plans, this is terrible because they’re not seeing an adequate return on their investment,” Stepp said.
Students have been told that the refund system is being applied to the Fall Semester meal plan, but Stepp said he would like to see it continue.
“I have not been told that this refund will stay in place,” Stepp said.
Ahmed said the refund will not be issued again and “is a one-time adjustment.”
Stepp said USG and RHAC will continue working to ensure meal plans fit students’ needs.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of delving into exactly how many blocks students are using,” he said.
Keeping education affordable is one of USG’s central goals this year, he said.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Stepp said.

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