By this time next year, our country will have a new president. At around the same time, PSU’s contract with Higher One, the financial institution responsible for handing out millions in student’s financial aid reimbursement, is set to expire after a five-year run. The university is currently in the process of deciding whether to renegotiate the Higher One contract next year, or go with a different company altogether. If you are a student at Portland State, chances are you are familiar with the PSU One card, which functions as both an official PSU ID card and a credit/debit card.
By this time next year, our country will have a new president. At around the same time, PSU’s contract with Higher One, the financial institution responsible for handing out millions in student’s financial aid reimbursement, is set to expire after a five-year run.
The university is currently in the process of deciding whether to renegotiate the Higher One contract next year, or go with a different company altogether. If you are a student at Portland State, chances are you are familiar with the PSU One card, which functions as both an official PSU ID card and a credit/debit card.
The One card provides students access to various PSU services on campus, include Student Health and Counseling, Peter Stott Recreation Center, Millar Library and PSU Housing. Perhaps most importantly, the One card serves as a means for students to receive their financial aid refund in a fast and effective manner. Before the arrival of Higher One, the company contracted by the Business Affairs Office nearly five years ago, students who wanted to receive their financial aid refund had to endure the long lines at the cashier windows for their refund check. Business Affairs Director Eric Blumenthal explained the reason for breaking with this tradition and transitioning to an outside financial institution.
“PSU is required by law to disburse the financial aid refund to students within a short period of time,” Blumenthal said. “With the number of students that we are dealing with, and the staffing levels that are available, we would not be able to issue the refunds to students as fast as, and as efficient as [going with a separate institution].” Blumenthal said the process involved with getting the contract with Higher One in 2004 now serves as a lesson about communication for his office.
There was little, if any, student input on the matter, and little advance notification to students of the changes. Students who arrived for the 2005 winter term were puzzled to learn that they could no longer receive their refund via paper checks at the Financial Aid office window.
Many students riled up at the new PSU requirement of opening a One account, joined with ASPSU in staging a boycott of Higher One. Monique Petersen, current chief-of-staff of ASPSU said, “The manner in which Higher One was originally brought to campus largely left students out of the picture and due to this omission of the student voice, there are negative aspects of Higher One’s service that must be addressed.” That’s why this time around Blumenthal believes that transparency is the key in deciding the options for financial aid disbursement. The committee involved in making the decision next year of whether to keep Higher One, or ditch it and go with a different company, is made up of 27 members from various PSU offices, including Financial Aid, Housing and Transportation, University Communications and Relations, Public Safety and–perhaps a radical change from the last time they did this–two student representatives, ASPSU President Hannah Fisher and Petersen. Meeting every two weeks at Smith Center, the committee works under an agenda set out during the summer, with the goal that by time the Higher One contract expires, there will be a new and improved system in place that will aid students in receiving their money in a fast and effective manner, Petersen said.
At the moment, Blumenthal and Karen Preston, the Business Affairs’ manager of purchasing and contracting, are working with ASPSU representatives in compiling a Web survey for students to voice their opinion about Higher One and provide input on how best to handle their money. Aside from gathering opinions from the mass populace, Hannah Fisher also plans on targeting specific demographics on campus. “We also plan to solicit information from the different student groups here at the university and get their input,” Fisher said. “We want to fully represent all the demographics at PSU, and that includes the undergraduates, graduates, parents of students, international students and those from out of state.” Being the largest university in the state in terms of enrollment, Blumenthal believes it is not possible to please every student. However, one important criterion his committee is considering in selecting a financial institution is the age-old adage: “time is money.” Hannah Fisher agreed. “My biggest concern is for the students to receive their money quickly and easily, because our students are not the traditional college students. Most are responsible for their own money,” Fisher said. “This is their life line, this money is for groceries, rent and tuition.” Since communication is the key to understanding, Blumenthal and Fisher encourage students to get involved in the decision-making process. Students who want to participate in the committee and future talks can contact either Fisher or Petersen.
A student forum is also in the works to provide a platform for PSU students to provide their input for their representatives, because, as Fisher said, “I represent the students, but I do not represent everyone.”