University makes first offer in Higher One debate

Portland State President Daniel Bernstine proposed an option for students to receive non-Higher One ID cards but student government was skeptical of the plan in the latest round of negotiations over the university’s contract with the Connecticut based financial aid services provider Dec. 2.

Portland State students began receiving their new ID cards, which can also function as debit cards, in November as part of PSU contract with Higher One. The company has taken over management of the university’s financial aid disbursement process.

In addition to paper check and electronic deposit disbursement options, the company offers checking accounts called "OneAccounts" that students can deposit their aid money into, using their ID card as their bank card.

The OneAccount is the default option for students activating their cards, and they must opt out of the program if they choose to use a paper check or electronic deposit – something that has angered many students. Student government has also complained that students were not included in the decision process, prompting a boycott of Higher One’s services and a sit-in in Bernstine’s office Nov. 23.

So far, about 4,500 students have activated their cards – about 21 percent of all students – according to administrators at the Dec. 2 meeting. Of students who have activated their cards, 3,470 have opted out of the OneAccount option. All students should receive their new cards before Winter Term begins in January.

Student government representatives, student leaders and several members of the PSU administration including President Bernstine attended the Dec. 2 meeting. Casey McGuane, Higher One’s vice president of university operations attended the meeting via speaker phone.

At the meeting, Bernstine proposed and option where students could choose to receive an ID card that was not associated with Higher One and would not have a Master Card logo on it. The cards, which would cost students $20, would have a magnetic strip and a photo of the Urban Plaza just like the Higher One cards, but would be produced at Portland State.

"I think that students deserve a choice," Bernstine said. "We’ll make it clear that students can opt-out [of the Higher One service]."

Bernstine also said the he was "anxious to work with students to improve the Higher One service," but made it clear that the intention was to continue the Higher One contract at PSU.

"That doesn’t mean we are not willing to talk with students about implementing Higher One," Bernstine said. "I don’t think there is a basis to break the contract at this point."

Student government President Christy Harper was reluctant to agree to Bernstine’s proposal, however.

"We don’t think it’s sufficient by any means," she said.

Student government has requested that they receive a copy of the proposal in writing so that they can "take it to the students." Harper said that they plan to hold a student forum Dec. 7 to discuss the plan, saying that at this point "there are way too many unknowns."

After the meeting, student government Communications Director Tony Rasmussen indicated that the government’s intention is to continue fighting for the full termination of the university’s contract with Higher One.

"We’re not negotiating with the university," he said. "The students want to end the contract, period."

Bernstine indicated at the meeting that he is giving student government a chance to think over his proposal, but may provide the option regardless of student government support.

In order to implement Bernstine’s plan, the university would need to purchase a machine to produce the magnetic strip cards, which could be expensive, according to Dee Wendler, director of business affairs for PSU. Students who wanted to opt out of the Higher One program would also have to fill out forms for the non-Higher One IDs and to receive financial aid through direct deposit – the only aid disbursement option that would be available to them.