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WKU students in Bowling Green will see their food fee increase to $150 per semester next fall, and future increases will bring the fee to $350 a semester within the next decade.

Students choosing to opt out of WKU’s meal plan will see their $75 semester fee increase incrementally until the fall 2026 semester.

These per semester fees will rise to $150 fall of 2018. Beginning fall 2019, the cost will be $300 per semester until the fall of 2022, where it will rise to $325, staying at that cost until the fall of 2026, where the final raise in fees will cost students $350 a semester.

The meal plan decline balance fees, referred to as mandatory meal plan dollars or more commonly known as flex dollars, began after former-President Gary Ransdell signed a 20-year contract with food company Aramark. The fees were put in place to help fund major renovations to Garrett Conference Center.

WKU’s contract with Aramark, which was approved in June 2017, includes several renovations to already existing campus eateries, such as the now completed expansion of Chick-fil-A, which totals approximately $51 million for renovations. For clarification, this is not the total amount of the contract itself.

WKU signaled its intent to enter into this contract with Aramark in March 2017. Under the contract, all full-time students not already on a meal plan are required to pay $75 per semester, which may be deducted from the cost if they choose to purchase a meal plan later.

The fee applies only to “face-to-face” students who take 12 hours or more at Bowling Green’s main campus. It applies to anyone on the Bowling Green campus who chooses to not buy a meal plan.

Under the university’s contract with Aramark, all first-year students under the age of 21, and living on campus, are required to purchase a meal plan. The lowest priced plan is $1,724 and includes $150 worth of meal plan dollars.

Board of Regents Chair Phillip Bale said approving the contract was “not something the Board of Regents had any participation in.”

“It was a presidential decision,” Bale said.

Staff regent Tamela Smith reiterated this point, adding that although plenty of contracts don’t come before the Board of Regents, the Board may want to reconsider that policy.

“I do think the Board wants to have the opportunity to see certain contracts especially those that involve student student fees,” Smith said.

Bale also said this policy in the bylaws “may be something we visit.”

When asked if he had concerns about the impact rising fees could have on students, Bale spoke for himself and other members of the Board.

“I think everyone does, yes,” Bale said. “Absolutely.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Kuster said while renovations to Garrett are badly needed, there is no current plan for what exactly will happen to the building in the near future. Part of that has to do with the “moving parts” in both the university and state budget, Kuster said.  

“We have been working on a new design for a new building, but we haven’t decided if we’ll renovate Garrett or build a new building,” Kuster said. “We’re still gathering that information.”

He said he projected a decision would not be made for the next six months.

Another option was to move Garrett to where the Industrial Complex Building currently sits, building a new building and adding space for academic areas.

“We’ve had discussions with Ogden College about that, but no discussion has been made,” Kuster said. “It seems to be a constantly moving thing.”

If Garrett made the move to the current Industrial Complex Building, Kuster said a parking deck would also be involved.

The University Senate passed a resolution last year “strongly against the contract,” University Senate chair Eric Kondratieff said at last week’s senate meeting, noting that the information that the Senate and the Board of Regents was given at the time was not complete.

Claus Ernst, faculty regent, at last week’s meeting, said there could be a problem renegotiating the contract if the board chooses because it is already signed. The Senate Executive Committee recommended that the budget finance committee look at the contract “sometime in the future.”

SGA Vice President Savannah Molyneaux said the fees associated with contract with Aramark has been noted by SGA President Andi Dahmer. She said the SGA executive board plans to bring it up during their next meeting with President Timothy Caboni.

“We do not want to see these fee increases for students,” Molyneaux said at the senate meeting. “We are not in favor of it, but we’re not sure whether it would be worth it for [Caboni] to try to go back on the signature, and the implications that could have for any future contracts the president signs.”

The Herald reached out to Dahmer for comment, but she did not respond before print publication.

Although meal plan decline balance fees are new to WKU, other public universities in Kentucky has similar fees for students not on their meal plans.

Morehead State University requires freshmen and sophomores to have meal plans, and juniors and seniors not on their plan pay a $100 per-semester fee.

Eastern Kentucky University requires freshmen, sophomores and juniors on campus to have a meal plan and students opting out pay for a $30 flex plan, similar to WKU.

Northern Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky require all resident students to have some sort of meal plan.

WKU receives 8 percent commission from sales Aramark makes on campus. Kuster said WKU made around $780,000 last year from food sales.

Kuster said benefits give students using their meal plan or $75 flex dollars on campus an 11 percent discount, or one dollar off of a meal of Fresh Foods.

“I understand it’s a struggle paying for some students,” Kuster said. “But this is thinking in terms of the university's future.”

Students felt differently towards the expected fee increase.

“Stop using my money to build things that we didn’t ask for, or at least tell us when you’re doing with it,” Nashville junior Ashley Brown said.

Louisville freshman Emma Greenwood felt similarly. “I worry about students trying to pay the difference, considering fees are already high enough.

News reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 and emily.deletter304@topper.wku.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyDeLetter.

Editor's note, Feb. 20: A clarification was added to this story to make clear that the $51 million stipulated in the Aramark contract was for the cost of renovations and not representative of the total cost of the contract.