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October 12, 2011 5:17 PM Banks vs. Students (and Their Rights)

By Daniel Luzer

Apparently a student at Catawba Valley Community College was banned from campus last week for protesting his school’s close relationship to one financial services company.

According to a piece posted at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

According to [student Marc] Bechtol, CVCC and Higher One aggressively marketed Higher One checking accounts through emails to students, advertising that they would get their tuition refunds and Pell Grants faster if they opened Higher One accounts; a September 19 email reportedly had the subject line, “Want your refund? Activate your CVCC Onecard today” in all capital letters. After Bechtol activated his card on September 27, he reportedly received a marketing phone call on September 28 from Orchard Bank, a credit card company.

The forced debit card is a common feature of college finances. Higher One, in particular, is a company specializing in the community college racket. Basically, Higher One contracts with the colleges to manage financial aid processes. The company promises students that they can receive their student loan refunds faster if they sign up for a Higher One account. The students often don’t realize that account comes with a lot of extra fees they might like to avoid and, furthermore, that they’ve now given personal and financial information to a bank, which is free to sell some of that information.

Bechtol criticized CVCC’s partnership with Higher One on the school’s Facebook page. On September 28, he also posted: “Did anyone else get a bunch of credit card spam in their CVCC inbox today? So, did CVCC sell our names to banks, or did Higher One? I think we should register CVCC’s address with every porn site known to man. Anyone know any good viruses to send them?” He immediately added a second comment, “OK, maybe that would be a slight overreaction.”
A week later, on October 4, as Bechtol waited for his second class of the day to begin, he was pulled out of his classroom by CVCC Executive Officer of Student Services Cynthia L. Coulter and told that he could not return. On October 5, Coulter sent him a disciplinary letter stating that Bechtol’s first Facebook comment was “disturbing,” “indicates possible malicious action against the college,” and violated CVCC’s policy against “[c]ommission of any other offense which, in the opinion of the administration or faculty, may be contrary to the best interest of the CVCC community.” Bechtol was suspended without a hearing and was banned from campus for two semesters. He attended an appeal hearing on October 7 but remains banned from the campus.

Higher One, however, continues to enjoy great power at Catawba Valley, a community college in Western North Carolina.

FIRE wrote to the president of the community college earlier this week, explaining that the Facebook comment obviously wasn’t a real threat and, furthermore, is protected expression. The organization also “noted that CVCC’s policy was unconstitutionally vague, completely failing to give students any opportunity to know what is prohibited by the whims of administrators.”

FIRE is correct. CVCC has apparently not responded to the organization.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Higher One on October 13, 2011 3:41 PM:

    First and foremost we would like to clear up some inaccuracies in your article, starting with the headline. Higher One is NOT a credit card company. We do not offer any instruments of credit to students. Our OneAccount is a checking account that is 100% optional for students. Many students do find the features and accessibility of the product convenient for their lifestyle, but it is always their choice. Higher One takes privacy very seriously and does not, under any circumstances, sell or share information with any third party providers or services. We comply with all Dept. of Ed and federal banking regulations.

    Regarding Catawba Valley Community College, the administration did not expel Marc Bechtol because of his opinions on the financial aid disbursement program with Higher One. Unrelated to his view of the Higher One program, the school found the content disturbing because of his threatening language, which indicated possible malicious action against the college and violated the school's Student Conduct Policy. Bechtol commented he wanted to register CVCC's address with numerous adult websites and also made mention of sending viruses to the school.

    Higher One works with more than 770 college campuses across the country. One of our core values as a company is communication and so our product development relies heavily upon student feedback. We welcome student opinion, as it has helped to make our offerings stronger and more valuable to students and schools over the last decade and has earned us a AAA rating with the Better Business Bureau.

  • Ken on October 13, 2011 3:56 PM:

    Higher One, why should public institutions of learning be in the business of assisting you with your marketing?

    Also, is it genuinely your position that you can't tell that Marc Bechtol's Facebook comment was satirical, not serious? Is that the level of reading comprehension and judgment your customers can expect you to use in conducting financial transactions for them?

  • Tadhg on October 14, 2011 1:26 AM:

    Higher One: following on Ken's comment, if one of your core values as a company is communication, how is it that you cannot recognize that Mark's Facebook update wasn't serious?

    Assuming that you do some kind of in-house training to promote your core value of communication, perhaps you need to add a module focusing on context? Once you and your team have grasped that, I recommend then tackling the more complicated "satire" and "humor" topics.

  • Jeff Lochmann on October 15, 2011 12:01 AM:

    Higher One: I personally could care less if you or the school intentionally misinterpreted a Facebook post. What I care about is that you used a line that every swindler, EVERYWHERE uses to justify their hustles: "It was their choice." We all know full well it was their choice; we can also surmise that you, the College, or a coalition of both intentionally misled students into thinking they HAD no choice, or that using your services, specifically, would increase the speed with which they received their funds. Even if the latter point was true, I'm reasonably certain that it is illegal for a state-funded institution to give preference like that. If any lawyers read this, could I get a ruling there?
    Ultimately, you are the worst kind of hustler: the kind with an official backer. Weighing your comment against the body of the article, I find that evident. I simply wish you could be arrested as simply as the guy who cheats at 3 Card Monte on the side of the street.

  • Higher 0ne on October 15, 2011 12:05 AM:

    Let me simplify for those that dont get it.

    We are well within our rights, as a financial institution, to solicit and conduct business, with anyone we want.

    Further, we are legally allowed to sell that info to anyone we wish.

    Just because you may not agree with our policies and practices, does not mean that our P%P or in anyway illegal or immoral.

    One last note, why dont all of you that are whining and crying about this incident, go down to your local "Occupy What Ever" with all of the other anti-Capitalist loons, freaks, and leftest hippie types protesting against America and the American way. This is America, if you dont like it, LEAVE.

    See what that manages to get you you sorry no good for nothing whiners.

  • andrews on October 15, 2011 11:59 AM:

    [1] Higher One takes privacy very seriously and does not, under any circumstances, sell or share information with any third party providers or services
    [2] Further, we are legally allowed to sell that info to anyone we wish.

    For a company learned in communictions, they may have a problem with keeping the message consistent.

    Yes, they are allowed to sell info to whom they will, depending on a whole bunch of facts not to hand but for which we can assume the usual defaults. Evidently someone did so, in order to trigger the credit card soliciation.

    It still makes Higher One, along with the school, appear to be the sort of people whom you should avoid.

  • Wow on October 17, 2011 5:51 AM:

    Wow, Higher One's second comment was a bit....ummmm...unprofessional?

    A lot of people care about both privacy and freedom of speech besides "anti-Capitalist loons, freaks, and leftest hippie types".

  • Paul on October 17, 2011 8:29 AM:

    Dear Wow,

    Certainly, you realize, that the second comment was from
    Higher (zero)ne and not Higher (capital-oh)ne?

    Have a nice day!