SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Nearly 18,000 public university students will be paying less for food meal plans during the next school year, according to the South Dakota Board of Regents.

“We are very confident there will be savings to students who are on meal plans,” said Heather Forney, the System Vice President of Finance and Administration for the South Dakota Board of Regents.

The Board of Regents chose a system-wide food service provider in Sodexo (pronounced suh dek sow) but is still negotiating the final contract. The new system-wide provider was announced on Jan. 27.

Although the final details are not yet agreed upon, Forney said the regents are confident in the cost savings to students.

The universities list food meal plan prices on their websites for 2021-2022.

Students pay a per semester cost for plans that may include unlimited meals or a certain amount of meals and may be broken down by year at the university or by campus residency. Flex money is money that can be used at franchise sites such as Caribou or another franchise food retailer on campus.

The unlimited meal plan with $68 in flex money per semester at the state’s largest university, South Dakota State in Brookings, is $2,041.00 per semester. That’s $4,082 a year. A campus resident plan at one the smaller universities, Dakota State University in Madison, for unlimited meals per semester and $100 in flex spending is $2,033.00. This plan would be $4,066 a year.

Both plans are on the high end of the costs and offerings at the two universities as well as the other campuses.

The SB55 Task Force assigned the regents to find a system-wide food servicer provider as a way to reduce costs.

While Sodexo will serve all six of the state’s public universities the food plans will differ on each campus, Forney said.

Based on three-year averages of student head count enrollment and food service participation, about 77% of the university system’s 23,155 students participate in a food meal plan offered by the campus provider.

Will students still get Einstein’s or Papa Johns?

The six university campuses have a traditional style food service but there are also franchise food retailers on each campus.

Black Hills State University, for example, has Einstein’s Bagels, while Dakota State University has Caribou and Starbucks, which are not full franchises.

Forney said students with meal plans can use meal plan dollars at the franchise food retailers on campus.

Sodexo must now have contracts with those franchise food retailers, Forney said.

“We might see some changes as we move forward,” Forney said.

But, any changes would be based in part on student input, she said. Students were involved in the request for proposal process and review process for a new vendor, Forney said.

Students were asked if they liked the current options or if they were interested in different options, Forney said.

Regents wanted employee security

The employees of a campus vendor are not university employees but the regents wanted to make sure they were not negatively effected with the change.

“The employees are a big deal. We wanted assurances…,” Forney said.

Soxedo has assured the Regents and employees that it wants to retain positions and does not plan to cut wages, Forney said.