When Fresno State student Jeremiah Henry received his Higher One card back in 2012, he tried to activate it immediately. He then got embroiled in a bureaucratic nightmare that lasted days.
It was while trying to activate the Higher One card that Henry began wondering how Fresno State had come to the decision to outsource financial aid to a company that was at that time involved in a class action lawsuit. Then, an even more pressing question came to mind:
“Why did Fresno State share my personal banking information with Higher One without my permission?”
Theoretically, student information is private and protected, but Higher One now has access to millions of students’ financial information nationwide.
After the lawsuit was settled (Higher One paid $11 million in restitution for “deceptive fees”), Higher One began a strong public relations program that included advice on how to avoid fees when using the card.
But Higher One’s peculiar fees imposition persists. As we mentioned here, one odd feature is that in order to avoid a fee, students must specify “credit” at the check stand even though the Higher One card clearly reads “debit card.”
And when Modesto Junior College (MJC) student Julia West tried to make an online purchase, she found the merchant couldn’t or wouldn’t accept the “credit” option.
“After reading about how to avoid charges on my Higher One card by using it only as a credit card, I was surprised to see that a few charges I’d made online were all treated as debits, incurring one-dollar charges for each order. And there’s apparently no way to ask retailers online to treat the charge as a credit.”
With students at hundreds of colleges and universities now using the Higher One card, even small fees add up. But at California Community Colleges like MJC and Merced College, students are already groaning under the burden of fees that have increased almost exponentially over the last few years.
According to Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph E Stiglitz,
In California, inflation-adjusted tuition more than doubled in public two-year community colleges….and by more than 70 percent in four-year public schools from 2007-8 to 2012-13.
Costs may have soared, but students aren’t getting more for their money. If anything, the situation for students at many of California’s community colleges has gotten worse. Classes are harder to get, the price of textbooks has risen in increments similar to fees, and parking is too often inadequate.
Many observers of higher education in California attribute some of the problems to the trend among educators to imitate corporate America. Thus, students are too often referred to as “customers,” the “business” becomes top-heavy with bloated administrations, money is saved via outsourcing, and the “product” tends to be thought of as a vehicle for carrying costs and turning profits which are then plowed back into the system, usually in the form of a more expensive bureaucracy.
It isn’t unusual for a California Community College president to make more than Governor Jerry Brown, and other administrative salaries are equally shocking. Seen as just another corporate tentacle in the intertwined maze of community college financing, Higher One’s presence isn’t something to wonder about. As many in the system would say, “It’s just business.”