Concerns about privacy, high fees, and the lack of student involvement dominated a forum Thursday discussing the University's plans to convert all ID cards into MasterCard debit cards and put financial aid into the hands of Higher One, Inc., a financial service in Connecticut. The Office of Business Affairs signed a contract with Higher One in early August without seeking feedback from students.
“We put on this forum so students would have a chance to ask questions they weren’t able to when PSU signed this contract essentially behind closed doors,” said Christy Harper, President of the Associated Students of Portland State University (ASPSU), “I think this was a good chance for students to ask tough questions that the administration must now address.”
Higher One will take over financial aid disbursement at Portland State University and produce ID cards, branded with the MasterCard logo, which may be activated as debit cards and would also act as the only available student body card. The company solicits students to activate their cards via their website and print materials. The company also rewards students for spending their financial aid with gifts, such as video games and mini-fridges.
At Thursday's forum, “students voiced a lot of concern about their personal information being handed over to a start-up company in Connecticut,” Harper said, “There were also concerns about the various fees students would face if they use the debit cards, like spending 50 cents every time you make a pin-based transaction, a $31 overdraft fee, and $3 to obtain a paper statement." The student government reports that Higher One has several fees that are greater than local banks who offer student checking/debit accounts. "When it comes down to it, many students tell us they just don't want to be forced into business with Higher One," said Harper. All Direct Deposits and paper checks will also be managed by Higher One.
On Friday, the Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the contract. "We need to act now to delay this project," said Student Senator Erin Devaney, "This is an important issue facing our campus." Specifically, the resolution opposes any contract that enters students into business with a third-party for the purpose of financial aid disbursement without the consent of student government. The resolution is similar to a resolution passed by the Oregon Student Association last month, which represents student governments at nine Oregon universities.
Approximately seventy students attended Thursday's forum. The idea of delaying the cards, possibly until Fall Term 2005, came up several times. "It seems like the best thing to do is send the cards out at the start of next year," said student Ryan Schowen, "That would give time to address student concerns, and we wouldn't have to switch IDs in the middle of the year." No students spoke in support of the scheduled release of the cards on November 15th.
In another effort to obtain student input, the ASPSU began a petition on Friday to delay the new cards. Within six hours, 274 students signed the petition. "Even the students who like the cards think we should hold off until the impact is evaluated by the community and the student voice is reflected in the program goals," said Student Senator Lindsay Craven.
The Office of Business Affairs insists that an effort was made last year to get students involved but were unable to get a commitment from students. In a letter sent to the ASPSU on Thursday, Business Affairs officials wrote that an informal request for students was made last year to several individuals, including Tonantzin Oceguera, the Director of Student Activities and Leadership Programs; Todd Bauch, Outdoor Program Coordinator; and Claudia Magallanes-Yarter, Multicultural Cluster Advisor. On Friday, Wendy Endress, the Dean of Students and head of Student Affairs, reported that every individual named had no recollection of any such request. Last Tuesday, Dee Wendler, Business Affairs Director, told the Daily Vanguard that student government was not as proactive last year as they are now. In response, former President Amara Marino and former Vice President Joe Johnson issued a statement claiming that no effort was made to contact their administration. "Had we known about this, we would have opposed until students were involved," said Marino.
Several other issues were raised at Thursday's forum, including the lack of support for international students. "Financial matters are complicated," said Mary Fletcher, Equal Rights Advocate, "From what I've seen, Higher One materials are only printed in English." In response to this concern at the forum, administration officials responded, "We hadn't considered that."
The ASPSU launched a website (link) to educate students about the campaign and register supporters. The website also serves to recruit volunteers for the campaign. "We want this project delayed - period," said Ryan Klute, Student Body Vice President, "We have the support of nine Oregon schools and several others across the nation. This project must be made to serve students."