Unexpected ally reinvigorates boycott

A state senator’s lambasting remarks about Portland State’s contract with Higher One have prompted a surge of activity within the student movement against the contract this week.

At a Senate Education and Workforce Committee meeting April 6, committee chair Vicki Walker harshly criticized the Portland State administration’s efforts to provide an alternative to Higher One ID cards. Currently if students do not want a Higher One card, they must pay a $20 fee to receive a non-Higher One ID from the university.

“If these students don’t want a Higher One card they should be able to get another card at no charge,” Walker told Dee Wendler, the Portland State liaison on Higher One, at the meeting. “I find this very objectionable that if they don’t want this card they have to pay 20 bucks.”

Walker instructed Wendler, director of business affairs at PSU, to take her comments to Portland State President Daniel Bernstine.

Higher One is the Connecticut-based company that took over ID card and financial aid disbursement services for PSU in November. The company provides ID cards that can be linked to checking accounts. Students can opt to have their financial aid directly deposited into their account and use their ID card as a debit card.

Many students have objected to the university’s relationship with the company, claiming that the company provides misleading information and charges unfairly high fees for their checking accounts. Supporters say the contract saves the university money and streamlines the financial aid disbursement process.

Walker’s remarks breathed new life into the campaign against Higher One at PSU, led primarily by student government.

The anti-Higher One campaign reached a climax in November when several hundred students protested the company’s contract with PSU in the Park Blocks. Students then staged a sit-in in Bernstine’s office. The protest resulted in Bernstine creating the non-Higher One card option, but since then there has been little public activity against the company.

Partially in response to Walker’s comments last week, student government began a campaign on Monday to pressure the university administration to drop the $20 fee associated with the non-Higher One cards. Student government has posted signs around campus protesting the fee, and is recruiting student support to lobby the university administration.

“It felt very relieving to me and other students to have our voices represented,” said Tony Rasmussen, communications director for student government, who has been heavily involved in much of the student government campaign against Higher One. “It reinvigorated students to get involved again.”

Few students have utilized the option to receive a non-Higher One ID card since the Bernstine unveiled the program in November. As of April 5, only 137 students had opted for the cards. Many critics of Portland State’s contract with Higher One have argued that few people have gotten the alternative IDs because the cost is prohibitive and the university has failed to adequately publicize the option.

“There’s been no marketing done on the [non-Higher One card],” said student government President Christy Harper.

Harper is also one of two students on the university committee on Higher One, and has been pressuring the committee to revise its approach to the non-Higher One card option.

Rasmussen expressed disgruntlement that student government has taken the lead on publicizing the non-Higher One option rather than the university administration.

“We can’t keep carrying the burden,” Rasmussen said. “At some point the university has to take up the responsibility.”

Students automatically receive free Higher One ID cards in the mail when they register for classes at PSU. The cards must then be “activated” on a website run by the company at, www.psuone.com. In order to receive a non-Higher One ID card, students must turn their Higher One card in to a window in the Neuberger Hall lobby, pay the $20 fee, and fill out a form to receive their financial aid through direct deposit.

Walker is drafting a letter to Bernstine about Higher One that she plans to send by the end of the week. Student government has been sharing information that they have collected about Higher One with Walker in hope that it may influence her comments to the president, according to Harper.

Bernstine declined to comment for this article about whether the university administration is considering dropping the $20 fee. Terri Meaney, Bernstine’s secretary, said that the president is waiting until after he receives Walker’s letter to comment on the issue.

The campaign against Higher One has been a defining issue for the Harper-led student government this year. As the university’s contract with the company lasts for five years, Harper, whose term as president ends June 1, said she hopes the next student government administration will continue the campaign.

“It’s going to be up to the next people in this office to carry this through,” she said.

Student government President-elect Erin Devaney and Vice-President-elect Molly Woon said that they plan to continue the campaign, but hope to add new energy by focusing on motivating students rather than committee processes.

“The campaign needs to be brought back to students,” Devaney said. “We want to let students know that it’s not a lost cause.”

Student IDs: your options

Higher One card with direct deposit to a third party checking account

What it does:
Your Higher One card functions as a student ID card only. Financial aid disbursements are electronically deposited into a bank account of your choice.

What you need to do:
On the card activation website, www.psuone.com, select the option to receive your refund by “ACH transfer.” You must also fill out an online form with your bank account information, print it, and mail it to Higher One.

What it costs:
The card and the disbursement service are free. Your bank may charge fees, depending on the financial institution and type of account.

Higher One card with paper check disbursement

What it does:
Your Higher One card functions as a student ID card only. Higher One mails a check to your home for your financial aid disbursement.

What you need to do:
One the card activation website, www.psuone.com, select the option to “send financial aid or other refund checks to my primary address.”

What it costs:
The card and the disbursement service are free.

Higher One card with OneAccount checking account

What it does:
Higher One establishes a checking account in your name with Horizon Capital Bank in Houston, Texas. Your financial aid disbursements are deposited automatically into the account as soon as financial aid is processed. You can use the account like a regular checking account, and your student ID doubles as a debit card connected to the account.

What you need to do:
On the card activation web site, www.psuone.com, select the option to activate a “OneAccount.” This can be done while activating your student ID, or at any time afterward.

What it costs:
Like other bank accounts, there are several fees associated with a checking account through Higher One. Some of these fees include a $0.50 charge for debit card transactions where you enter a PIN rather than sign a receipt, and a $3.00 charge for receiving a paper account statement. Student government published a study in the fall claiming that Higher One’s fees are 94% higher than those associated with other checking accounts. To view the study, visit www.pdx.edu/aspsu.

Non-Higher One Card

What it does:
The non-Higher One ID option functions as a student ID card only. It lacks the MasterCard logo found on the Higher One cards. Financial aid must be disbursed through direct deposit.

What you need to do:
Go to the ID card window in the Neuberger Hall lobby to have a non-Higher One card made. You must also fill out a form to have financial aid electronically deposited into a bank account.

What it costs:
There is currently a $20 fee to receive a non-Higher One ID card.