Higher One bill to get Senate vote

SALEM, Ore – State Senator Vicki Walker scolded Dee Wendler, architect of PSU’s Higher One contract, for the university’s handling of the contract at a senate committee meeting Wednesday.

After hearing testimony from several students and Wendler, Walker harshly criticized the effort at Portland State to offer an alternative ID card to the Higher One card. Currently, non-Higher One IDs cost students $20.

“I want you to take this back to the president of your university,” Walker told Wendler. “if these students don’t want a Hhigher One card they should be able to get another card at no charge. I find this very objectionable that if they don’t want this card they have to pay 20 bucks.”

The Education and Workforce Committee, which Walker chairs, was discussing a bill aimed at providing tougher protections on releasing student social security numbers to third parties.

Walker said that the university should absorb the full cost of the alternative ID cards because students “were not given accurate information” about Higher One and had no way to opt out of the Higher One program before receiving a card.

Higher One is the Connecticut-based company that began providing ID cards and financial aid disbursement services to PSU in November. Many students have objected to the university’s relationship with Higher One on grounds that the students did not give PSU permission to give the company their personal information. Portland State does not currently provide Higher One with student Social Security numbers, but the company’s activation website for student ID cards asks students to enter their numbers.

In a small victory for the student campaign against Portland State’s contract with Higher One, the committee voted Wednesday to send the bill, intended to protect against disclosure of student Social Security numbers, to the Senate floor for a vote.

Senate Bill 643, originally drafted in response to Oregon universities’ controversial contract with Higher One, came to the senate committee with the joint support of Portland State, Southern Oregon University, and the Oregon University System, led by the Oregon Student Association (OSA).

If passed, the bill will prevent the university from releasing Social Security numbers to companies like Higher One without permission. The bill would not interfere with health care providers who would still be able to obtain students’ personal information from the university.

The bill would also require prior disclosure if the university was to give out combinations of personally identifying information such as Social Security numbers with either date of birth or gender.

However, legal ambiguity arising from the placement of a comma rendered the disclosure section of the bill moot, and almost caused it to be held in committee.

If the bill passes the senate, John Wykoff, executive director for OSA, says the comma confusion will be worked out in the House.

The first testimony in favor of the bill came from Wykoff, who outlined the privacy issues involved with the original Higher One contract and described how the bill would prevent future privacy infringements.

Amanda Barron, federal affairs director for the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU) and external coordinator for the Higher One boycott, also testified before the committee, enumerating essential oft-repeated complaints from the ASPSU-led campaign.

Dee Wendler, director of the Office of Business Affairs for PSU, testified next, defending the decision to sign with Higher One and listing the concessions made in response to student complaints as well as data reflecting the choices students have made regarding the extent of their involvement with the accounts.

Rev. Edward Kill, who testified last, revealed that students who choose to receive the alternative non-Higher One card must pay a fee. He has filed identical but separate lawsuits against President Bernstine and Wendler,

After Kill’s testimony, Walker chastised the administration, adding, “Twenty dollars is a lot of money to a college student.”

Rev. Kill also noted that Wendler’s statistics regarding the percentage of students who have opened accounts was misleading because students receiving financial aid had no alternative; that in fact, “They’re over a barrel.”

Before Walker closed the session on SB 643 she said, “I added my name to the bill because I was so offended by it.”