What’s next for Higher One?

Portland State’s contract with Higher One will expire in two years, and some think it is time for the university to decide whether it wants to continue using the often-controversial financial aid distribution company.

Portland State’s contract with Higher One will expire in two years, and some think it is time for the university to decide whether it wants to continue using the often-controversial financial aid distribution company.

Higher One provides financial aid disbursement and ID card services to universities for free and makes profit through fees associated with use of the ID’s debit card service.

According to the Offices of Finance & Administration and Business Affairs, the university will not begin looking critically at Higher One until at least next August.

The process of finding a new financial aid distributor for PSU after their contract with Higher One expires is still in the planning stages, said Eric Blumenthal, director of Business Affairs. The process will likely include putting out a request for proposal to many different companies and a student satisfaction survey, he said.

There are many more behind-the-scenes steps that must be taken, said Dee Wendler, associate vice president for finance and controller, including consulting with the State Treasury and the Department of Justice about security, confidentiality and treasury issues.

While the process will take a while, Wendler said PSU will probably not start the request for a proposal process until four to six months before the contract is up. Surveys will likely be released before the process begins, but there is no set timeline for that, she said.

Since PSU first started working with Higher One, the company has often been the subject of student-sponsored boycotts and rallies. Many students, including members of student government, have been critical of the company due to concerns over student privacy and large fees.

When the university first signed with Higher One three years ago, hundreds of students joined student government representatives at a rally in front of then-President Daniel Bernstine’s office, demanding he break PSU’s five-year contract with the company.

Concerns over a lack of student voice in the final decision to sign with the company were also raised.

Blumenthal and Wendler both said the university will do all it can to gauge student opinion–just not at the moment.

“My whole philosophy is you always learn from your mistakes,” Blumenthal said. “I certainly would not want to exclude students.”

Blumenthal said the question of conducting surveys to gauge student opinion was still open.

“That’s so far in the future,” Blumenthal said.


The university’s current stance on Higher One is not satisfactory for Ryan Klute, legislative affairs director for the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU). Klute was vice president of ASPSU at the time of the original boycott and has been historically outspoken about his dislike for the company.

Klute said the PSU administration made a lackluster effort in trying to get student opinion in 2004 but has a chance to redeem itself by doing everything it can to discover what company will best service students.

Klute said the university should start a survey process and form a committee at the end of this term in order to make sure the process is handled correctly.

Student Voice

One of ASPSU’s platform issues this year was to revamp interest in Higher One. Klute said he and others in ASPSU would strongly encourage the administration to start talking to students about Higher One. Student government plans to start an educational campaign about the Connecticut-based company, he said.

One student who would like to see Higher One disappear completely is Sean Staub, who was a freshman during the 2003 Higher One boycotts.

PSU should do all it can to determine if Higher One or similar companies are institutions students really want, he said. Staub also said he doesn’t think PSU should put any large company in charge of its financial aid distribution and ID card services.

The PSU administration has gotten a significant amount of feedback on Higher One over the years, and Wendler said it is noticed and will be looked at closely in the future.

“We heard that loud and clear, and certainly that is huge for us,” she said about student criticism of Higher One.

About Higher One:

Students have three options for financial aid disbursement: They can open a Higher One checking account and have the funds transferred directly, have funds transferred to an account at another bank, or receive funds in paper check form. Students can receive a non-Higher One ID card for $20.

Higher One was founded in 2000. Oregon Senate Bill 643, which would have restricted the ability of Higher One to do business in Oregon, was then proposed in 2005–however, the bill was later changed. As of this month, Higher One has contracts with 83 other colleges and universities.