What the hell is Higher One?

Higher One is a Connecticut-based financial aid disbursement company that was founded in 2000 by Sean Glass, Miles Lasater and Mark Volchek.

Higher One is a Connecticut-based financial aid disbursement company that was founded in 2000 by Sean Glass, Miles Lasater and Mark Volchek. Higher One provides ID card and financial aid disbursement services free to the university and in turn makes a profit through the fees associated with the use of the debit card.

Tips on using your card:

Get to the ATM early
There have been issues in the past where on disbursement day the Higher One ATMs on campus have run out of money. If you choose to liquidate your OneAccount to pay for books, rent or whatever, make sure you get to the ATM in the morning and beat the rush. Remember, there’s no such thing as infinite money. It’s not like it grows on trees.

Wait for the check
If you’re one of the lucky few who can wait a few weeks after disbursement to receive your money (if you are that well-off can I borrow a 20 spot? I swear I’ll give it back soon), choose the paper check option. You won’t have to worry about shady Internet transactions and you’ll have something concrete to show for all that work you put in filling out the FAFSA. Plus, you can show it around town to let everyone know just how rich you are.

Say cheese
If you are a new student and choose not to attend a Portland State orientation, you will not get your picture taken and put on your Higher One card. If your card happens to get stolen, it will be that much easier for the thief to use it. If you decide to skip orientation to stay home and sleep in instead, you’ll have to pay a $5 fee if you want to get your picture taken for your card.

Charge it
One of the much-discussed aspects of the Higher One card is the 50-cent debit transaction fee. If you use your Higher One card, make sure the teller knows to run it as credit unless you want to make those folks at Higher One that much richer. It might be embarrassing at first to buy a pack of gum with credit, but if you practice saying it enough, you’ll get used to it.

Relationship with PSU
Late in 2003, PSU developed the idea for a new student ID card that would also function as a debit card, which the school could use to disperse financial aid electronically to the student. A “request for proposal” was published and in February 2004, PSU reviewed submitted proposals from banks and financial institutions, including Higher One. Six months later, PSU signed a five-year contract with Higher One to handle its ID card and financial aid disbursement services.

Relationship with student government
Believing that student government was left out of the decision to sign with Higher One, Christy Harper, then the student body president, and former Vice President Ryan Klute submitted a formal request that PSU suspend its contract with Higher One. Both PSU and Higher One agreed to hold off the implementation of the contract for a month.

Late in October, PSU hosted a forum with Higher One chair Mark Volcheck and the PSU administration to discuss Higher One. Student concerns were brought forth, and Associated Students of Portland State University announced a boycott of Higher One’s services the next day. Six hundred students signed the petition to boycott the company on Oct. 20, 2004. The program was launched Nov. 15, 2004, and the first official Higher One protest was held Nov. 23 that ended in a sit-in at PSU President Daniel Bernstine’s office.

After a few months of correspondence and debate, Bernstine agreed to give students a fourth option, one that would allow students to purchase a non-Higher One card for $20.

Higher One debate extends past campus
On Feb. 16, 2005, a bill was introduced to the Oregon Senate that would restrict the ability of Higher One to conduct business in Oregon. By the time Senate Bill 643 received a vote, it was changed almost completely to strictly being about protecting disclosure of students’ social security numbers.

Two months later, Oregon Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene) criticized Higher One at a meeting of the Senate Education and Workforce Committee, and called for a free opt-out.

“If these students don’t want a Higher One card they should be able to get another card at no charge,” she said in September 2005.

Higher One in the spotlight once again
Last summer, after a year of diminishing public Higher One discussions, the student government announced that they would be conducting a survey in August to accurately judge where student opinion stands on Higher One. Higher One provided an iPod prize as an incentive for students to take the survey. Student body president Courtney Morse said that after taking office she would reignite the Higher One boycott. She then said that ASPSU would now work with Higher One to provide the best service it can to students. ASPSU now has no official stance on Higher One. The survey found that students had neutral feelings about Higher One.

Options for disbursement
Currently, students have four options for their financial aid disbursement. Besides the aforementioned $20 opt-out fee, students may have their aid deposited directly into their personal bank account, receive a paper check in the mail or open a OneAccount through Higher One.