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MUlaa swipes in the right direction

By Alison Block, For The Miami Student

The beginning of a school year is a time for new classes, new school supplies, new friends and, for Miami students this year, a new system for MUlaa and meal plans. While the Housing Options, Meals and Events (HOME) office is excited about the new system, students have yet to react to the changes, which will be more relevant at the end of the school year.

Contact from students and parents to the HOME office prompted the change; the most common complaint was students and parents wondering why their MUlaa could not be refunded, though it was their money on their account.

"Our staff, we sort of just get tired of saying "I'm sorry, we can't do that," Brian Woodruff, Director of HOME said.

Previously, any money left on a student's meal plan at the end of the school year rolled over into his or her MUlaa account, which remained active from year to year, while the meal plan account had to restart every fall. When a student graduated or otherwise left the university, meal plan money transferred into the MUlaa account, and all money in the MUlaa account was absorbed into the university and could be reactivated if an alumnus visited campus and wanted to use the remains of their balance.

The Housing Options, Meals and Events (HOME) office notified students by email in July that the system had been reformed. Students now have more access to their own money. Starting this year, the money leftover in students' meal plans at the end of each year will carry over to that student's meal plan for the next year for the duration of their enrollment at Miami, rather than being transferred over to MUlaa as it previously did.

The meal plan will also transfer automatically from Diplomat, which is the meal plan for students who live on campus, to Express, for students who live off campus and do not receive the discount on food on campus. MUlaa will continue to roll over from year to year, and when a student graduates, the leftover MUlaa will now credit back to that student's bursar account.

Extra meal plan dollars at graduation will no longer transfer to MUlaa and will still be absorbed into the university and students can no longer transfer funds from their meal plan into their MUlaa account.

"One thing we're going to do is work really hard to keep students informed, to help keep them aware of their balances and let them know, 'Hey, you've got this amount of money, you might not want to add to your [meal] plan,'" said Woodruff. "We want to help you, because our goal is that it all gets spent; we don't want anyone to have to leave any money."

Before the change, neither leftover MUlaa nor meal plan could be refunded, but now, MUlaa is refunded to the student and the meal plan is absorbed to the university. The HOME office hopes that by making the meal plan easier to plan out, students will not have money left on their account.

"I think it's going to be a lot easier, because you don't have to figure it out just for this one year. It's, 'As long as I'm here it's going to roll over with me, I can be tracking it online …'" Woodruff said.

And while the system is more streamlined now, some students feel it could be even better.

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"I think that the end of your years at school, [meal plan money] should be absorbed into MUlaa, not just go be absorbed into the university, because we shouldn't lose the money we didn't spend," sophomore Creative Writing major Abby Pickus said. "Overall it's improvement … Not as good as it could be, but it's a step in the right direction."

Whether students are satisfied or not, this type of approach is progressive for a university.

"A lot of schools still have the kind of plan where you pay a certain amount, you get three meals a day, and if you don't use it you lose it," Woodruff said. "And so Miami's always been ahead of the curve, so to speak, with those flexible spending accounts, [the] Diplomat plan you can use when you want, where you want, and now it's just adding that flexibility that you can use it during whatever year you want."

These changes began when officials in the HOME office decided in late 2013 to react to the feedback they consistently received from parents and students - namely, why could a student not be refunded for their unused MUlaa?

"… To be honest, I couldn't come up with an answer to that, and neither could my boss. And so, we also made the decision, well, how can we make this refundable?" Woodruff said.

It was not only the work of the people in the HOME office, though. Representatives from the bursar office, university accountants, dining staff and even students from ASG (Associated Student Government) were consulted at some point in the process.

"[The President of ASG] and I were approached during the final stage of the change, at the end of last year," Secretary for On-Campus Affairs of ASG and sophomore Political Science major Maggie Reilly said.

The collective effort of this process was to make the change as useful as possible to students, but it's too early in the year to tell if that is the case.

"I have heard complaints that people have way too much money on their MUlaa account this year because they did not use all of their meal plan last semester," Reilly said. "In that case, the change would help those people."

The results of these changes will likely not be determined until the end of the current school year, and the HOME still wants to take the students' opinions into consideration.

"We're here for you and want to make sure that what we're doing is what you want," Woodruff said.

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