Senate bill may thwart Higher One

Members of Portland State student government are working with Oregon legislators to draft a bill that the students hope will result in Higher One, the university’s ID and financial aid disbursement provider, getting booted off campus.

Students have been protesting the university’s contract with Connecticut-based Higher One since it began in September. The company provides bank accounts that can be linked to students’ ID cards, which double as debit cards. Students can then choose to have their financial aid disbursement deposited directly into the bank accounts, called "OneAccounts."

Students protesting the Higher One contract were angered by the lack of student involvement in the university’s agreement with the company, but concerns have also been raised that the company misleads students into signing up for the bank accounts without providing them with clear information.

The senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Ringo and several state representatives including Portland-area Mitch Greenlick, targets a different concern: protection of students’ identifying information.

Students including student government Communications Director Tony Rasmussen, who has spearheaded the anti-Higher One campaign, and student government presidential candidate Amanda Barron met with Ringo’s legislative aid Friday to discuss the language of the bill.

Student representatives want to make sure that the bill does not overly restrict businesses, or prevent universities from providing necessary services in cases of emergency, Rasmussen said.

Senate Bill 643 would require that when a university contracted with a financial institution, students would have to elect to receive financial services in writing, and that students’ financial information would not be released without the students’ written consent. Universities would also have to provide a no-cost alternative to any financial services provided for students who opt not to receive those services.

While the bill is not specifically targeted at Higher One, it would almost certainly restrict the company’s ability to provide financial services to students under its current business model. Higher One currently relies on Portland State to provide information about students necessary to complete financial aid disbursements. Assembling written consent from over 24,000 students in order to continue receiving such information would prove to be a difficult task.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Education and Workforce Committee for review.