Card Office mistakenly processes $65,250 meal plan

Junior Erin Martyn saw this five-digit price tag when she opened her PatriotWeb account. Other items edited for privacy. (Screenshot)

UPDATED: 09/07/10 10:53 a.m.

As a new semester approaches, college students are forced to ponder certain questions. How many times can I hit the snooze alarm each morning? What am I going to be involved with this semester? Or the familiar, slightly more mundane…What meal plan should I have?

Such was the question Erin Martyn began posing as she prepared for her junior year. Because Martyn’s new housing is in Liberty Square, an upperclassmen residence equipped with a private kitchen, she figured she could change to a more economical meal plan than years’ past. Ultimately, Martyn made the first of many important decisions this semester and elected to make the switch from the dollar-for-dollar Freedom plan to the Super Patriot voluntary meal plan.

Designed for students who live off-campus or for upperclassmen with their own kitchen, the Super Patriot Plan offers 75 meals per semester, for a total of $562.50. The plan is ideal for someone who wants to snag an occasional dinner at all-you-can-eat Southside for the meal plan equivalent price of $6.00.

Unfortunately for Martyn, her seemingly harmless decision had alarming, comical consequences.

When she visited the Meal Plan office in the Center for Student Engagement (formerly Student U Building II) the week before classes began, everything seemed normal. Martyn filled out a rather painless one-page form requesting her G number, original meal plan, and the plan she wanted to switch to, and left the office perfectly contented.

You can imagine the surprise then, when on Friday, Martyn’s mother sent her a text message which read, “What the hell did you do to your student account!!?? You owe over $73,000!!”

Although surprised by the text, Martyn figured it was her sister’s poor attempt at a joke and temporarily blew it off. However, on Saturday, after logging on to PatriotWeb and accessing her student account, she couldn’t help but laugh when she noticed her account balance indeed read a combined $73,000 balance for her room and board, tuition and meal plan.

Martyn was even more shocked to notice that $65,250 was the recorded balance for her meal plan alone. While it was immediately clear to her that an error had occurred, the timing could not have been worse since students were required to submit payment for the semester to the student account office on Monday, Aug. 31.

Martyn was the first student to enter the Card office when they opened at 8:30 a.m. Monday morning. When she explained her situation to the two female attendants, she received both laughter and sympathy. While they were incredulous at just how big the mistake was, Martyn says they were certain the discrepancy had been caused by human error when her meal plan request was processed. According to Martyn, “the woman admitted that there had been others who experienced similar errors in processing, with one student registered for a $23,000 meal plan before the account was fixed.” This case, however, was the biggest anyone had seen.

After bringing up her student account and witnessing firsthand the $65,250 clerical error, the woman brought Martyn behind the counter to oversee the corrected changes to her account. The office attendant then e-mailed Student Accounts to inform them that Martyn would be late processing her payment since the changes would take up to 24 hours to be in effect. The changes were made and visible on her PatriotWeb account Tuesday morning.

How the Card Office Works

Laura Callahan, Card Services Coordinator, elaborated on how the card office functions. “Mason ID, Meal Plan, and Mason Money make up one office, being a popular stop for many at the beginning of the semester,” said Callahan. “This is the first fall semester we are processing Meal Plan billing through the Residential Management System (RMS). The Blackboard Transaction System (BBTS) is the system that runs the meal plan program, Mason Money, etc.”

Callahan went on to describe how the office handles changes to meal plans. “Once meal plan usage begins, all changes have to be entered manually into both systems. On the fourth day of class there were 4,775 active meal plans. Over 2,400 changes were manually processed in each system,” claimed Callahan. “Mistakes were minimal and our auditing process was in place to catch and correct errors quickly.”

So how should students safely go about making a meal plan switch? Meal plan changes can be made by e-mailing or by visiting the Meal Plan office on the lower level of the Center for Student Engagement (SUB II).

“For immediate use, however, it is best to visit the meal plan office,” said Callahan.



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