Bernstine moves ahead with ID card plan

Portland State President Daniel Bernstine issued an open letter to students yesterday announcing that they will have the option of obtaining ID cards not affiliated with the company Higher One.

In a phone interview, Bernstine said that he hopes the new option will resolve the conflict between students and administrators over the contract with the ID card and financial services provider. However, student government leaders said that they will continue to demand cancellation of the contract.

In the letter, Bernstine also said he would establish a committee of faculty, staff and students to oversee implementation of the Higher One contract. Bernstine asked student government President Christy Harper to appoint two students to the committee, which will be staffed by Dee Wendler, director of business affairs at Portland State.

"I have tried to address the issues that students have raised," Bernstine said. "I think the OneCard committee can address any further issues."

Connecticut-based Higher One took over handling of the university’s ID card and financial aid disbursement at the beginning of winter term. Students control their financial aid disbursement through activation of their ID cards, called OneCards, which can function as debit cards connected to checking accounts provided by Higher One.

Many students have protested PSU’s contract with the company, arguing that students were not included in the university’s decision and that Higher One misleads students into activating the checking account option. Resistance to the program came to a head Nov. 23 when students staged a sit-in in Bernstine’s office, demanding that the university end its contract with Higher One.


Higher One card
activation rates

Number of students who have activated
their Higher One cards and their financial
aid disbursement choices, according to
President Bernstine’s letter.

– Activated cards: 13,388 (53% of
issued cards)

– Opened OneAccount: 4,139
(31% of active users)

– Refund via electronic deposit:
4,164 (31% of active users)

– Refund via paper check: 5,819
(43% of active users)

Under Bernstine’s plan, beginning today students can obtain a form from the ID card office to request a card produced by PSU and not affiliated with Higher One. The cards will resemble the magnetic-stripe cards provided by Higher One, but will not have the company’s logo or the Master Card logo found on the Higher One cards.

The new cards will cost students $10 to obtain for the remainder of Winter term, but will increase to $20 beginning Spring term.

Choosing the new cards also requires students to file a form to have financial aid disbursed through electronic deposit, the only disbursement option available to students who choose not to use the Higher One IDs.

The university will request that Higher One delete its records of students who request the cards provided by the university if they have already activated a card provided by Higher One, according to Wendler.

In order to produce the non-Higher One cards, PSU purchased two Zebra Eltron printers at a cost of $12,000, according to Cathy Dyck, interim vice president of finance and administration. The university also had to purchase new magnetic-stripe card stock.

Tony Rasmussen, communications director for student government, described Bernstine’s plan as "a step up," but said that the Associated Students of Portland State University would continue to push for the contract’s termination.

"Our primary goal is to get this card off our campus," he said.

Despite her opposition to Higher One, Harper will support and provide student appointments to the OneCard committee, Rasmussen said.

Bernstine first drafted a proposal of a non-Higher One ID card option in response to student complaints about the contract in December. The proposal was offered to student government leaders for review, but Bernstine indicated at that time that he might decide to implement the option without student government support.

Student government collected student feedback about the proposal, but had not yet responded to Bernstine at the time his letter was released.

"Shared governance is not a matter of approval, it is a matter of consultation," Bernstine said when asked about his decision to go forward with his plan.

Student government leaders indicated disappointment at the president’s efforts to involve them yesterday.

"[Bernstine] did not consult us, we stormed his office and he made this offer," Rasmussen said. "There is a direct relationship between that attitude and the students that stormed his office."

According to Bernstine’s letter, slightly more than half of the over 24,000 students at PSU have activated their Higher One ID cards and chosen financial aid disbursement options with the company.

Portland State has already processed more than $16 million worth of financial aid through Higher One, disbursed to over 7,300 students.

About 31 percent of students have chosen to have the financial aid deposited into checking accounts with Higher One, with the other 69 percent opting for electronic deposit into other bank accounts or a paper check.

On average, about 54 percent of students have activated "OneAccount" checking accounts with Higher One at universities that have had the program for at least one year, according to the company’s web site.

Both Wendler and Dyck indicated satisfaction with PSU’s OneAccount activation rate, saying that it showed that PSU students were able to make choices about their financial aid disbursement.

In his letter, Bernstine cited budgetary woes as one of the main factors behind the university’s contract with Higher One.

"These past few years have been a challenge for all of us because of declining state resources," the letter’s closing paragraph states. "These budgetary challenges combined with our commitment to PSU’s access mission and finding ways to offer better and more efficient services to our students make our arrangement with Higher One a sound decision."

According to Higher One’s original proposal to Portland State in February 2004, the university could save over $100,000 a year through the deal.

Download president Bernstine’s open letter to students below:
HigherOne letter page 1 (1.72 Mb PDF)
HigherOne letter page 2 (1.17 Mb PDF)