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Some students question COC financial aid fees

Posted: March 21, 2013 5:09 p.m.
Updated: March 21, 2013 5:09 p.m.

The financial aid system at College of the Canyons has been in place for less than a year, but some members of the school’s student government are questioning the fees that go along with it.

During a joint meeting of the COC Board of Trustees and the college’s Associated Student Government on Wednesday, several students questioned the nature and magnitude of fees associated with the school’s Higher One system.

Founded in 2000, Higher One provides financial aid disbursement services at schools around the country.

Wednesday’s meeting was not the first time someone had raised issue with Higher One’s fees. The company was the target of a class-action lawsuit over allegations that it unfairly charged fees to college students.

Higher One later was forced to pay $11 million in restitution to 60,000 students across the country as a result of the lawsuit, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

Tom Bilbruck, COC’s director of financial aid, said Thursday that news of the lawsuit emerged last summer, after COC had already signed its contract with Higher One.

“It would have definitely affected our decision had we known about it,” Bilbruck said. “But it didn’t change anything for us after (the contract) was already signed because they fixed their issues.”

COC negotiated a three-year contract with Higher One to offer electronic aid disbursement services at the college beginning fall 2012.

The company offers three primary ways COC students can receive their aid: By an issued card that is linked to a checking account set up by Higher One, by direct deposit to an existing checking account or by having the college mail checks directly to students.

But accounts through Higher One also come with fees, including 50-cent levies for using the card as a debit card and potential monthly charges depending on account activity, according to Bilbruck.

There are also fees if students withdraw money from an ATM that is not run by Higher One, but those are typical of debit and credit cards, Bilbruck said.

Bilbruck also said every student has to read the terms of the fee schedule and agree to it before opening an account with Higher One.

“A lot of students who have problems didn’t actually read the fee schedule,” Bilbruck said.

Approximately 41 percent of the school’s financial aid recipients have chosen to open an account through Higher One, Bilbruck said. About 31 percent choose to set up direct deposit to another bank account and 27 percent still receive paper checks, Bilbruck said.

Bilbruck said the school chose Higher One as its vendor because the service has the most options for students in terms of how they can receive their financial aid.

Previously, COC sent out paper checks to each student receiving financial aid every time there was a new aid disbursement. The school sent out around 12,000 such checks last year, Bilbruck said.

Another reason, Bilbruck said, is that anyone who is enrolled at the college can open an account through Higher

One, including students who might not be able to open accounts elsewhere.

“We wanted to have a company that worked with our ‘unbankable’ students,” Bilbruck said.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney




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