Catawba Valley Community College student Marc Bechtol thought there was something wrong with being forced to use a debit card he didn’t want because it was also his student ID card. Without activating the debit card, Bechtol had no way to access university services, including obtaining his financial aid.

Bechtol complained last spring that school was forcing him to obtain a debit card issued by financial firm Higher One, and that his personal information would be shared with the company. When he did, he said he immediately began receiving credit card spam, which directly inspired his Facebook comment.

After being left with no other choice, he was forced to activate the card. That’s when he got angry.

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Connecticut-based Higher One works with hundreds of schools to create combination student ID cards/debit cards that can be used for direct deposit of financial aid funds. The cards can also be used to withdraw cash or make purchases. There have been frequent complaints that the school cards carry higher fees than traditional ATM cards. On many campuses, students are charged 50 cents for each “debit” card purchase at retail outlets in which they enter their PIN codes for verification — known as PIN-debit purchases, as opposed to signature-debit. ATM withdrawals at non-Higher One cash machines cost $2.50.

The cards offer some advantages for both students and school. Similar to debit cards used to deliver unemployment benefits or other government payments, the cards are far cheaper than mailing checks. And recipients have quicker access to the funds.

But confusion over debit-vs-credit purchases, and a $19 “abandoned account” non-use fee that hits after nine months, have irritated users.  The idea that a private firm is getting a cut of financial aid payments through debit card fees should also raise eyebrows.

This is an insidious use of the card by Higher One. The student has no choice but to use the card and, when they don’t use the card, they are then charged fees for not using the card.

But the chief concern about forcing students to use ID cards with MasterCard logos should be obvious: Why start kids down the credit/debit card route before it’s necessary? And why get them used to the nickel and diming?

According to FIRE, Becthol isn’t completely out of trouble yet.

Despite CVCC’s decision to rescind Bechtol’s punishment, problems remain, as Bechtol is still required to notify the college before using computers on campus. CVCC also has failed to revise the unconstitutional policy it used to punish him and has not rescinded its claim that the Facebook comment was a policy violation.

While Bechtol’s comment about vandalizing the school is not appropriate, and wasn’t even serious, the entire incident brings attention to how intrusive schools and companies associated with them have become. If a student does not want this combination ID, there should be another solution, such as a paper check or a direct transfer into a student’s personal account that they established on their own. Forcing them to use a company that they do not want to do business with should never be an option.

These combination cards are also not a good idea because they are a student’s ID, meal plan card, and an ATM card. If a single person in this chain makes a mistake, the student is then forced to pay overage charges. For example, say a student only has $100 left in his account and the person scanning the card for a meal accidentally puts in $1000, it is the student who has to fix the problem.

If a school is going to force these cards on its students, there needs to be an opt-out. A mandated checking account from a specific financial institution by the school should not be a requirement to attend college.

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