In some ways Dimitris Desyllas epitomizes the group of students protesting Portland State’s contract with Higher One, the Connecticut-based company that took over the university’s financial aid disbursement and ID services this term.
A former student senator and Rearguard editor, Desyllas, currently a graduate student in conflict resolution, still uses the faded, laminated PSU ID card he got in 1992.
When Desyllas discovered that PSU releases certain identifying information about students, he was angered by what he saw as a violation of his privacy. He asked the Business Office not to release any information related to him to Higher One.
"My name is owned by me and not anyone else," Desyllas said, indicating his frustration in the lack of choice in giving his information to Higher One. "I don’t have any options, basically."
As a result, he has not received an ID card or set up his disbursement preferences through Higher One’s website – a process the university says is now necessary for students to receive their financial aid.
With no system in place for Desyllas to receive his financial aid without activating a Higher One card, he arrived in Neuberger Hall yesterday afternoon prepared for a fight.
Yet, when he stepped up to the cashier’s window and presented his ancient ID card he was met with a surprise – the cashier simply cut him a check for the full amount of his aid disbursement.
Desyllas, it turned out, had inadvertently stumbled upon a "loophole" in the current aid disbursement system.
Many students – about 49 percent according to the most recent statistics – have not yet activated or received their new Higher One ID cards. In order to insure that students are able to receive financial aid in a timely matter during the transition to the new system, the Business Office is cutting checks for students who are listed as not yet having activated their cards. The Business Office then withdraws the money back from Higher One.
Because Desyllas never activated his card, he fell under the group of students who are able to receive a paper check from the university.
"One of my main goals was to make sure that students weren’t disadvantaged," said Dee Wendler, director of business affairs. But before students opposed to Higher One go clamoring to the cashier’s window, however, they should be aware that the in-house checks are a temporary system intended to help students who have not received their new ID cards, not as a way for students to avoid involvement with Higher One.
"We evaluate on a case by case basis," Wendler said, but the office is "erring on the side of caution" in cutting checks to make sure that students are able to get aid when it is badly needed she said.