New Higher One card-refund conundrums

At the start of the semester, Guilford began to unfold part one of a two-part plan to “bring the college into the twenty-first century,” where billing and issuing refunds to students are concerned by using a contractor, Higher One, to handle student finances and billing for Guilford.

According to Higher One’s website, the company was founded in 2000 and offers a full array of services such as refunds, payments, electronic billing, payment plans and more. Over 1,250 public and private higher education institutions use Higher One.

While I applaud Guilford’s efforts, I take issue with two items: the lack of transparency in implementing such a change and the lackluster customer service provided by the contractor Guilford chose.

But I digress.

The first phase of this change consisted of issuing debit cards and making refunds available solely through delegating our information-du-jour to Higher One. The second phase will eliminate the billing process as we know it.

To those ends, Guilford used every available avenue to notify students that green envelopes were coming to the college and to not throw them away.

Part two of the plan includes a new billing system, which is also provided by Higher One.

Sending payment in will now be a second option. All of our financial transactions will be handled through a centralized billing system, much like how most utilities, cell phone bills and credit cards are handled.

Guilford paid nearly $30,000 to the company for its services and, unlike most processes at Guilford, there were no conversations with students about how they would react to this company. It was as if students were given the bird and told to look out for a green envelope in the mail.

Consider my recent experience with Higher One’s customer service, as I was in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, waiting on my whiskey sour, and my Higher One debit card was declined.

I was on a date, and it seemed that I was off to an embarrassing start. Not only had I just received my financial aid refund, but I had also deposited money into my new Higher One account.

The company had taken my deposit, and my college had trusted the bank to handle the entire school’s refunds, so I figured nothing could go wrong. That was until I went to pay for my drink.

“Do you have another form of payment?” the female bartender asked.

Of course I did not have another form of payment.  Apparently my card had been declined.

I almost felt criminal as I walked outside to call customer service. After waiting on hold for over 20 minutes, I finally was able to reach a human and resolve the problem.

Even after speaking with Guilford’s financial czar, Vice President for Finance Gregory Bursavich, I am still on the fence about the quality of the company that was recently contracted to do all the financial grunt work for Guilford.

Bursavich said that “snow storms” were the cause for many of the delays like those that I experienced.

Was it snowing at Guilford when there was an executive decision to implement this system without community input?

Even if there are apparent benefits of moving to an electronic way of billing, why was the community not completely involved in this process? Does this mark the end of an era, where Guilford shies away from consensus-based decision making?

While I am convinced we need to move the college into the 21st century, I think, like anything else at this college we need to look closely at our core values when we make blanket changes that affect our community.

If not, we should erect another flag representing our eighth core value: absolute power.