Fresno State Financial Aid Shenanigans

This is a continuation from my original ranting blog about the poorly formed email (both in terms of grammar and HTML markup) where I also called shenanigans concerning the direction of my university and its policy with handling student financial aid, scholarships, and loans. I had been anxiously awaiting to receive my HigherOne Card in the mail, which I will now refer to the University designated title of “Fresno State Choice Card” (FSCC). It came on Saturday, and you can bet that the first thing on my agenda for that afternoon was to activate that card so I could be done with it. I wasn’t at all surprised when things did not turn out to be as “convenient” as the original email (along with its duplicates and the following emails [which were usually duplicated as well]) would have me believe. Following, you will see a series of screenshots from the web-based activation/validation/authentication process for the FSCC. Take a moment to flip through them, by all means–take special note of #2 and #5.

  1. The first part of the process was simple enough: enter the number from the card. That’s easy and…convenient…I guess.
  2. Now there are a few more text boxes to fill out. I’m familiar with the security codes from my regular credit cards, so that’s easy enough. Now I need the last five [numbers] of my student ID plus my date of birth in MMDD format. Here I had to assume that it wasn’t wanting me to do a mathematical operation, as in the sum of the integers from the last five digits of my student ID and my DOB in MMDD format. I figured concatenation was the most obvious choice from these less-than-clear instructions, and even though I was frustrated when either algorithm didn’t work, I wasn’t surprised.
  3. Try several more times just to make sure I was not mis-keying my data.
  4. Give up for now. My account will probably get locked out if I try to authenticate and fail too many times in a row.
  5. Sunday rolls around. Let’s try again. Same deal, same instructions, same result.
  6. Rant on Facebook. Other students and friends are having the exact same issues. One student says that a family member has figured out the magic solution. Instead of entering the last five of your student ID plus your DOB in MMDD format, do the reverse! DOB in MMDD plus last 5 of SID. Okay, I’ll try that.
  7. See screenshot #3.
  8. Call their 24/7 customer service hotline to get account un-suspended.
  9. Regular business hours are Monday through Friday, so if your problem is beyond the simplistic automated system, you have to wait until Monday.
  10. FML!
  11. Monday morning rolls around. Call customer service. “We are experiencing a higher volume of calls than normal, so your assistance may be delayed. Current wait time is approximately 10 minutes.” You don’t say…
  12. Try to re-authenticate just in case there was an auto-reset on suspended accounts after x hours of inactivity. See screenshot #5, and note the changed verbiage in the instructions. This time the authenticator is asking for the numbers in the “correct” order.
  13. Make breakfast.
  14. 20 minutes later, real person answers. “Hello and thank you for calling HigherOne. Can I have your card number please?”
  15. Stop making breakfast. Thank you, mom, for pulling the eggs I was frying off of the stove while I ran back to get my card!
  16. Account un-suspended. I authenticated to the next step while I was still on the phone with customer service just to make sure. “Have a nice day.” -_-
  17. Continue authentication process. Recall that this convenient process started on Saturday morning, and it’s now Monday morning.
  18. Make [your] choice. How do I want my money disbursed? Like there’s even a choice: direct deposit to my regular bank, of course! I’ve heard all about your transaction fees, inactive account fees, sneeze on your card fees, breathe fees. No, thank you.
  19. Oh, look, they’ve been smart enough to default me to the second choice, “Deposit to another account.” See screenshot #6. How did they know I was going to choose this option in advance? Oh, they must have seen that I had direct deposit to Bank of America set up from before. Wait. WAIT…
  20. Why the hell does this third party institution have my personal banking information already, including my account number? I never gave permission to have that information shared!
  21. Rage.
  22. Continue. Confirm selection to deposit to another account. SMH at flowchart. See screenshot #7. Note the verbiage. “Receive your refunds in 2-3 business days*. (Flow chart). 2-3 Business Days
    *Initial refund may take 8 business days.”
  23. What the hell does any of that really mean? 2-3 business, 8 business days, “refunds,” “initial refund”… since when are scholarships, loans, and financial aid considered “refunds,” anyway?
  24. Start drafting an angry blog.

Now that you’re all caught up, I have a few questions. In fact, I imagine a lot of students are asking themselves (and should be asking people in addition to themselves) the same questions; in fact, I know of at least one student, Phing Lee, who has written a blog on the same subject. I hope he won’t be the only one.

  • Why did this change occur to begin with? What was wrong with the old system where the campus financial aid department handled funds? I suspect it’s saving the campus money in some way or another; I suspect that students won’t see the benefits from those savings if there are any (unless “benefits” come in the form of increased tuition rates, parking fees, and more and more limitations on the amount of units in which one may enroll coupled by a very limited availability of classes); and I also suspect that certain individuals are receiving incentives from HigherOne for outsourcing financial aid to them.
  • Did those who decided to implement HigherOne into our financial aid system take note that HigherOne is currently in a class-action lawsuit because of their questionable fees? More info in that here, along with this excerpt from Brent Hunsberger’s article written for the Oregonian:

    …other colleges have not done their due diligence on the card. In fact, they keep signing agreements with Higher One to disburse student financial aid via its card, apparently oblivious to its burdensome and questionable fees. Among those institutions in the Northwest: Oregon Institute of Technology, Lane Community College, Mt. Hood Community College and Western Washington University. They also don’t know how PSU (site of student protests 8 years ago over the card) and SOU negotiated the fee out of their contracts.

  • What about shenanigans like this? Am I going to have to pay 1% of my balance to HigherOne to have my money deposited elsewhere?
  • What was the decision-making process behind this change? Were any of the governing bodies on campus consulted? Did ASI vote on this or give a recommendation?
  • So there is pretty good documentation out there regarding all of the potential fees associated with just having a HigherOne account, let alone using it, but I want to know about interest rates. What sort of interest would I see accrue toward my account for keeping my money there? (LOL. Yeah, right.) So if the students aren’t benefiting from any potential interest income, who is?
  • Why did Fresno State share my personal banking information with HigherOne without my permission?

If you weren’t angry about all of this before you read this blog–and I’m sorry–but I hope you are now. None of this has been “convenient,” and I want answers.