The waiting for financial aid refunds went from the physical to the digital this semester as Shepherd transitioned to the new Ram Advantage Card.
The Ram Advantage Card works like a regular debit card and comes with fees similar to a banking account. Higher One is the third party behind the Advantage Card that has partnered with Shepherd to handle financial aid disbursements for the next six years.
Although students are not required to use the Advantage Card, the new partnership between Higher One and Shepherd was formed because of a number of reasons according to Deborah Judd, the vice president for administration and finance.
While the days of waiting in line at Ikenberry Hall are over, emotion toward the new Advantage Card is apprehensive as some are still getting used to the change.
Cassidy Rao, a freshman elementary education major, stated that her parents opted to go the old route and have Higher One mail out a check. “They don’t trust the online option,” she said.
As part of federal regulation, students have the option to decline the Ram Advantage Card. There are three choices of distribution and the method of delivery is chosen online on Higher One’s website. The three choices of distribution are: same day deposit to a Higher One checking account, deposit to another account which takes between two to three days, or a paper check delivered in five to seven days. Once a method of delivery is selected, it will stay the same throughout a student’s college career each semester unless that student wishes to update it.
If no preference is selected, a default check is mailed after 21 days from the time the funds are available, according to Lauren Perry, a public relations coordinator from Higher One.
Samuel Tryon, a bookstore worker and sophomore majoring in social work, said that some coming through with purchases weren’t a fan of the cards, himself included. “You used to be able to just go and get your check,” he said.
Judd stated that if she were a student, she would consolidate the money to her own banking account. “It doesn’t matter to us; we want students to get their money quickly and correctly and that’s our goal,” she said.
While the Ram Advantage Card works just like a debit card, there is no upfront fee for students to have an account. However, there are usage fees.
“We take more of an educational approach to the disclosure of our fees,” stated Perry when referring to the online system that students must read through when first accessing the account.
Every PIN-based transaction will cost 50 cents, although users may avoid this charge by hitting cancel for credit to skip typing in a four-digit PIN. It is also $2.50 per ATM transaction, plus any fee the ATM owner charges, and $5 per International ATM. There is also a charge of $25 to transfer to an account that differs from Higher One.
These fees led to a protest two years ago by students from Western Washington University. In 2011, according to an article from The New York Times, students were upset for being charged 50 cents with each PIN-based transaction and $2.50 per ATM fee. Students were also upset by a $19 fee for an account that remained inactive.
Sixty students protested and created a Facebook page to voice concerns over the fees. According to the article, Shoba Lemoine, a spokeswoman for Higher One, stated that Higher One was upfront about its fees and what was happening at Western Washington University was “atypical.”
According to Perry, Higher One has eliminated the nine-month $19 inactivity fee as well as the insufficient funds fee.
Judd stated that Higher One was the most experienced in their field as the company was selected against three others to streamline Shepherd’s financial aid refunds. Judd stated that going with Higher One would cut operational expenses by saving on things such as toner and mailing checks. In addition, the company is familiar with maintaining federal financial aid guidelines that must be adhered to.
Other colleges and universities in West Virginia have also partnered with Higher One to distribute federal aid refunds. Marshall University, West Virginia Northern Community College, West Virginia University at Parkersburg, Mountwest Community and Technical College and American Public University use Higher One distribution.
Shepherd has entered into a six-year, $5,000 per year contract that includes three additional renewal periods with Higher One.
January will be the first time that the entire Shepherd community receives their financial aid refunds through Higher One, but Judd stated that a few disbursements were ran during the fall semester to serve as a trial basis. According to Judd, there were no issues. “If you owe people money, they will let you know if they don’t get it,” she said.