Since 2010, AU has been using the Higher One account service to facilitate tuition refunds to students. With this service, students are given the ability to choose if they want their refunds issued through a Higher One “OneAccount,” or if they’d prefer the funds be added to their personal bank accounts.
Gayla Roberts, director of Student Financial Services, explained that a OneAccount “is a bank account with normative fees that you would receive at any bank you choose to use. However, as mentioned previously, students are not required to open or use the OneAccount. Many opt to have the refund directly deposited into an existing bank account at their preferred bank.” Students can make the decision about their chosen format through the Higher One website.
Higher One was chosen as AU’s refund service because “AU simply does not have the staffing to get them out as quickly as students require,” said Vanessa Tijerina, AU’s assistant treasurer and controller. “We realize these funds are used to purchase books, pay for rent, etc., and students need to receive the funds as quickly as possible. Back in 2010, Higher One was the best provider for AU to partner with to meet our students’ refunding needs.”
In 2012, Higher One was taken to court over the way that they advertise and run their accounts. The main claim was that they did not accurately describe their account fees to their customers and that they did not make it easy or clear for students to opt out of the OneAccount.
A settlement was reached in early 2014 that allotted $15 million to be paid to students who opened accounts prior to 2013 who had been subjected to fees that were deemed unfair to the clients.
Students who had been subjected to the fees outlined in the court case had the opportunity to submit a claim that had the potential of allotting them some of the settlement money, depending on how severe their claim was. These compensations were distributed starting April of 2015.
In addition to these retributions, Higher One also had to change some of their policies. According to the OneAccount settlement page, some of these changes included things like stating OneAccount fees more clearly for students, eliminating some of the fees students had been subjected to through their accounts and “simplifying the process by which students may transfer their funds to other, non-Higher One checking accounts.”
According to Roberts and Tijerina, Higher One was very open and transparent with AU during the process of reaching the settlement. “They’ve sent emails, hosted teleconferences, and our personal representative has been easily accessible to answer any questions,” Roberts said.
In addition, Tijerina affirmed that Higher One “continue[s] to be great to work with” and also said that the settlement should not affect AU’s current or future relationship with Higher One.