For future ETSU freshmen who live in the on-campus residence halls, excluding Buc Ridge, the days of optional meal plans are coming to an end.

Instead of getting the choice to buy a plan, these students will now be required to purchase one beginning this fall.

Joe Sherlin, vice president for student affairs, said the decision to require meal plans for incoming residential freshmen was made after university leadership conducted research on how to improve on-campus dining options.

“We’ve heard anecdotally from students over the past several years that there’s interest in expanded offerings, in hours and our food service,” Sherlin said. “So we started looking at this in detail in the fall with the renovation of our university center upcoming, and also our dining facilities.”

After holding student focus groups and conducting a campus-wide food service survey, university leadership consulted with other Tennessee Board of Regents institutions that had previously worked to improve their food service offerings.

“We found that all of our peer TBR universities have a meal plan requirement of some type,” Sherlin said. “The decision to move to a meal plan requirement was made at the end of the fall semester with university leadership, including Dr. Noland.”

Because of the upcoming renovations to the D.P. Culp Center, the university terminated its food service contract with Aramark and sent its food service contract out for bid. The exact cost of the meal plans will not be determined until a new food service provider has been selected, though Sherlin said university officials have estimated a price range.

“The cost of the standard plan that we have put in the proposal is $1,675,” Sherlin said, “and that is the same price that a student would currently pay for a seven-day, all-access plan.”

As a result of the upcoming changes to food services, Sherlin said students who purchase meal plans in the fall will receive access to expanded food options and anytime dining in the Marketplace from 7 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

Sherlin said incoming freshmen who live in Buc Ridge will be excluded from this requirement because Buc Ridge is located slightly farther away from on-campus dining services than the other residence halls.

Although incoming freshmen living on campus are the only students who will be required to purchase a meal plan, plans will remain available to all students, including those living off campus. All students who purchase a plan will receive access to the new dining features, including anytime dining.

Sherlin said this fall will begin the first year of a four-year plan that would ultimately require meal plans for all on-campus students.

“The plan will be phased over the next several years, so for our residence hall community, this coming fall we’re talking about new incoming freshmen,” Sherlin said. “Then the following year, entering freshmen and sophomores would be expected to have a plan in our residence hall community if they were going to live on campus.”

No speculations have been made on whether this new requirement will affect enrollment, though Sherlin said he believes the plan will have a positive impact.

“Research shows that campus dining is really a high-impact practice to get students connected to the institution and to get them engaged,” Sherlin said. “So we believe that moving to this requirement for our incoming [residential] students will help them connect to the institution, and it will help them connect to their peers.”