Few opt for Higher One alternative ID cards

Almost three months after Portland State President Daniel Bernstine unveiled a program for students to receive ID cards unaffiliated with Higher One, fewer than 140 students have exercised the option.

Bernstine created the program in response to student protest, led by PSU student government against the contract between PSU and Higher One, a Connecticut-based company that began providing student ID and financial aid disbursement services to PSU in November. Through Higher One, students can choose to open checking accounts that are connected to their student ID cards. Financial aid money can be direct-deposited into the accounts, called "OneAccounts," and the ID card can double as a debit and ATM card.

Students began protesting the new cards in September, claiming that Higher One charges unreasonably high fees for its banking services and that they mislead students into opening the checking accounts. Proponents of Higher One say that the system allows students to get their financial aid disbursements faster and more reliably than the old paper check system.

Partially in response to a student sit-in in his office Nov. 23, Bernstine offered students a non-Higher One ID option beginning in January. To receive the non-Higher One card, students must fill out a form specifically requesting to be removed from the Higher One system, pay a $20 fee and set up direct deposit for their financial aid disbursements. As of Monday morning, only 137 students have opted for the non-Higher One card.

Student government leaders, who have maintained a boycott of the OneAccounts, said they were disappointed with the manner the alternative to opt-out has been presented, saying that it has been inadequately explained and advertised to students.

"The administration is not taking [the option] seriously," said Tony Rasmussen, communications director for the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU). "It’s not designed with students in mind."

Rasmussen characterized the opt-out process as "more difficult to navigate than Higher One" and "a fairly ridiculous way to placate students."

Overall, 15,638 students at PSU, or 57 percent, have activated their Higher One ID cards. Activation of OneAccounts has been considerably lower at Portland State than at other schools who contract with Higher One, with 33 percent of active card users also activating OneAccounts and 23 percent using the accounts for financial aid disbursement.

At other schools contracting with Higher One, as many as 60 percent of students use a OneAccount within one year of activation, according to the company web site.

Many students are most likely receiving their cards but not activating them. According to Dee Wendler, director of business affairs, the reason for this is most likely that few university services require them to activate the cards. In the future, magnetic-swipe card readers will be used for access to services such as using the Peter Stott Center gym or borrowing from the library.

Currently students are able to access these services by showing their ID, even if they have not activated it, but when students start discovering they are unable to access services without activating the card, there will likely be an increase in activation, according to Wendler.

"As we attach services, activation will go up," she said.

New web site in development
Portland State is one of five universities working with Higher One to redesign the web site students use to activate their Higher One ID cards.

Wendler has been representing Portland State in the redesign, which is aimed at making all of the financial aid disbursement options offered more apparent to students. A frequent complaint from students protesting Higher One has been that the company misleads students into opening OneAccounts without adequately explaining the other disbursement options available, direct deposit or paper check.

The redesigned site, which is currently scheduled to launch next fall, will also only require student social security numbers if students choose to open a OneAccount. The current site requests a social security number even if the student is only activating the ID card, with a note saying students may enter a series of numeral ones if they do not want to disclose their social security number.

Wendler has also been working with a Portland State committee on Higher One established by Bernstine in January to receive feedback on the redesign. The committee consists of faculty, staff and two student members appointed by ASPSU President Christy Harper.