New semesters in the past created a serpentine line of students all the way around the financial aid center.
To reduce waiting time, worries and expenses, Southwestern College has adopted a financial aid disbursement service through Higher One banking services. Early reviews are favorable.
Higher One offers aid disbursements for students including direct deposit into an existing bank account, a check mailed to the recipient’s address or a payment into a Higher One SWC debit card. Cards are automatically sent to students’ homes, along with a brochure detailing other dispersal choices.
SWC students Omar Reyes and Berlin Lopez said they use the card because of the instant transfer of funds, whereas a mailed check would take about a week to be delivered. Reyes said Higher One came through.
“They made a promise that the refund was going to be given on the first day,” he said.
“Not only is the refund deposited to the Higher One account the same day it is available, it also allows full access to the money as well.”
“They sent me the card in the mail and they said I could access my financial aid through the card” she said. “I’m happy with it. It’s pretty easy.”
Although the debit card charges students banking fees, the college saves money for every check it does not need to process. A chart on the Higher One website displays all applicable fees, one of which costs the students 50 cents every time they input their PIN during a transaction. Another is the typical charge for using a non-company ATM which charges students $2.50 per use. Higher One ATMs are only located on campus.
Students who do not read the terms of agreements may not be aware of these fees when signing up for the card.
Reyes was unaware that he was being charged every time he swiped his Higher One card for all purchases. He is not alone. For that reason, Patti Larkin, director of financial aid, evaluations and veterans services, said an electronic newsletter would be sent out to financial aid recipients concerning the charges.
“We’ll be doing a newsletter in the fall just to tell students what’s going on for this year,” said Larkin, “and we’ll be doing one in the spring to give them a heads up on what’s going to be going on the following year.”
For SWC students receiving financial aid, the process is completely without fees unless they chose to have their refunds directly transferred into a Higher One bank account.
Partnering with Higher One has brought SWC many benefits, Larkin said.
“The primary benefit that Higher One provides for students is it gives them choices, which they didn’t have in the past,” she said. “In the past students could only receive their financial aid via paper check.”
Larkin said the reason Higher One was chosen over other vendors, such as Sallie Mae, was the lower cost of processing checks and the number of benefits for students. Larkin said students have been asking for a quicker and simpler way to receive financial aid. Higher One is a third party vendor that provides services to SWC as well as hundreds of other college districts such as Long Beach City and Los Angeles. It also prevents the money from being lost or stolen, said Larkin.
“I have had tragic cases of students who cashed a very large check and lost it,” she said. “There’s nothing we can do. Our hands are tied.”
Students receiving financial aid through the Higher One card are not required to bank there, said Larkin.
“Some students were under the misperception that they had to open an account with Higher One and that was absolutely not the case at all,” she explained.
Questions about Higher One may be answered through the SWC website or the Higher One website, Twitter, or Facebook accounts.