No faith in the Higher One

Portland State recently announced a new contract with HigherOne, a private company based in Connecticut, to issue students newID cards. In the deal, PSU gets a revamped financial aid system andstudents get their money faster, which, among other things, couldmean no more waiting until January 3rd or 4th for that winterdisbursement. There’s no charge to the university for the newprogram and the only way that Higher One profits is if studentsopen checking accounts with the company and then use their debitcards to make purchases.

You see, Higher One is a financial institution and, along withthe capability to handle your financial aid disbursements, your newstudent I.D. cards (replete with MasterCard logo) can also functionas a debit card – but only if you decide to open a checking accountwith Higher One, which is optional.

The new “OneCards” will also act as library cards, meal plancards and door entry cards.

That’s a lot of cards.

I have always dreamed of the day when a single card couldaccommodate all of my needs, all together, in one card. My onlyworry: where will all of our little stickers go?

The Associated Students of Portland State University areslightly more worried. In fact, ASPSU was so upset about theannouncement of this new program that they put in a formal requestlast week for the student I.D. contract to be suspended. Their mainconcerns appear to be that the new cards may encourage students tospend irresponsibly and that students weren’t included in thedecision.

According to a Vanguard survey, 81% of PSU students have jobs.And the average age of PSU students is what, 46? Hell, 7.6% of usplan to buy a new car next year. In other words, this will not bethe first time that most students have handled their own finances -we’ve been around the block a few times, some of us more.

Now, I appreciate that the ASPSU is worried about my ability toapply my financial aid toward the proper means – I find itendearing, student government taking itself so seriously. But themain concern here should be whether or not PSU should outsource itsinternal affairs to private companies.

It’s called privatization and in an Orwellian scenario it couldspell the end of our educational utopia: the completecommercialization of college campuses. Neuberger Hall could become”Coca-Cola Hall.” The Peter Stott Center could become the “NikeCenter.” And instead of nickel preachers berating us outside ofSmith Union (to be renamed “Starbucks Plaza”) about how we’re allgonna go to hell if we fornicate before marriage, we could end upwith local radio stations and national magazines plastering thecampus with ad campaigns that court students’ already limitedresources (oh…wait…that’s already happened).

Unfortunately, it would seem that PSU didn’t have much of achoice. The old financial aid system wasn’t working effectivelyenough and was losing the university money. PSU is a business,after all, and a company has to do whatever it can to remainsolvent: cancel classes, lay off professors (or only hireadjuncts), raise tuition – whatever it takes. In this case, getHigher One to save its butt.

As far as being included in the decision making process, theASPSU seems to be under the delusion that a university is ademocracy (as are many of us concerning our higher government). Auniversity is a bureaucracy if there ever was one: does theMerriam-Webster description of a “system of administration markedby officialism and red tape and characterized by adherence to fixedrules and a hierarchy of authority” sound familiar? I hope that theASPSU keeps that in mind as they trumpet their concerns aboutirresponsible spending by students.

Bottom line: in four to six years all of PSU’s current studentbody will no longer be students (we hope); we will have “real” jobsand will be spending “real,” not borrowed, money. And, if allthings go according to plan, PSU will have a solid financial aidprogram that will help it to remain solvent for decades tocome.

For PSU’s sake, I hope the “OneCards” are a big success – ifthey’re not there could be hell to pay.