Financial aid partners with BankMobile to disperse student funds

Allison Stutzka/Courier Pamphlets from BankMobile Disbursements and Pasadena City College refunds are displayed on a rack near the Financial Aid office in the Student Services building on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

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PCC students will now be able to receive financial aid funds electronically due to a partnership with a digital banking system called BankMobile, approved by Superintendent-President Rajen Vurdien.

Financial Aid Director Manuel Cerda gave a presentation about the future of how students will be receiving their funds during the last Associated Students meeting of the Spring semester on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. According to Cerda, this idea for students to be receiving their funds electronically was in the works about a year and a half ago, around the time Cerda took the the director’s position.

“Dr. Vurdien’s recommendation was, ‘We’re falling behind, and most schools were already doing a more rapid-type of option for students’,” Cerda said. “A year and a half ago… was when [making BankMobile the go-to to disburse refunds to students] was already in the plans.”

Starting July 7, a small disbursement will be given to students and in the Fall, approximately 8,000 students will be receiving their funds. In the meantime, Marketing Director Alex Boekelheide will be assisting Cerda to help get the word out about BankMobile before Fall arrives.

According to Cerda, the financial aid office emailed students back in late May introducing BankMobile, a digital banking system that gives students choices on how they want to receive their aid, or in this case, ‘refunds.’ For example, if you’ve paid for your classes and you decide to drop a class, you’ll be getting a refund.

In the email, students were asked to verify their home and email addresses so that the financial aid office can send them a BankMobile card in a green envelope with instructions on how to activate it. 

“The college is changing the way we’re doing refunds,” said Boekelheide. “What we’re trying to do here is get the money back to students quicker by working with BankMobile to do that.”

The BankMobile card will only go to students who are enrolled in accredited classes. New students will receive their card a week after they’ve enrolled. Through this card, students will be receiving their refund, aid, and/or their scholarship grants after they activate their card on the BankMobile site. Students who are not receiving financial aid are also encouraged to sign up. Unless they close their account, students who are not enrolled will be charged a monthly fee.

Allison Stutzka/Courier
A poster is pinned on the bulletin board in the lobby of Student Services center advising students to update their mailing address in anticipation of the new partnership with BankMobile Disbursements on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

For homeless students, or students with unstable housing, Cerda is planning on trying to have the cards mailed to campus so that the students can pick them up after they show their proper credentials.

When the cards get sent out to homes, there will be an email sent out to students with the same information just in case something happens during the delivery. Students will have the option to sign up to have money transferred into their bank account, sign up to open an account with BankMobile, or continue to get their check in the mail.

Initially, students were getting their refunds through the mail only as a check, but that will no longer be the case for a number of reasons. According to Cerda, they take time to be made and then sometimes students end up not receiving them.

“[It’s] a very cumbersome, expensive process; checks get lost, the address is not updated,” Cerda said. “We had a whole new [set of] students who had a hard time receiving their checks.”

Despite how good the program looks for students, there will be skeptics of it. A number of students will wonder what to do with the green envelope once it arrives. For example, if the email, let alone the envelope, is not at least PCC-related, students may not bother opening it.

“Unfortunately, a lot of students will throw it away, or parents… they’ll see it as marketing and throw it away because it’s really not marketed as PCC very much,” Cerda said. “It’s a very generic looking envelope.”

There are students currently asking questions.

In a Facebook post on Monday in the PCC Book Sale hub, a student made a post about an email they had received from BankMobile, wondering how it got their information. In the comments, some are questioning the validity of both the services and the email. A number of faculty members like VP of Student Services Cynthia Olivo, and Boekelheide are reassuring them that the info they’ve received is legit.

Students like business major Dolly Dappa are already on board with the program. In fact, she’s ready for her funds to come immediately.

“Bring it… I’ll be checking my account,” Dappa said. “Give me the money!”

Many other schools across the country can recall a time when they didn’t have these options. These same schools are quite familiar with BankMobile because the company used to be under another name called Higher One eight years ago. In 2012, Higher One was under fire because the company wasn’t transparent with the students in the contract about all the fees they were charging while forcing students to sign up in order to get their refund. In 2015, the Department of Education barred all the colleges from forcing students to sign up, while the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC) and Federal Reserve paid back students $55 million in restitution.

For the next couple of years BankMobile did some in-house cleaning to ensure that there’s clarity between the company and students. They’ve since disclosed their contract on their website, they’ve centralized their focus on serving the students, they’re not sending a card to the students immediately like Higher One did before and there will be minimal to no fees.

Now, teaming up with Boekelheide, Cerda is trying to figure out other ways to get the word out about BankMobile before Fall semester arrives. They currently have brochures about the company in the Financial Aid office, the Student Services office and the bookstore, just to name a few.

During ‘Welcoming Day’, there will be banners and a booth set up with a BankMobile representative to answer any questions students may have about the program. Financial aid faculty are getting educated about BankMobile so they will be able to assist students in any way they can. Cerda is certain that the PCC-BankMobile partnership couldn’t happen at a better time because the company has fixed all of their previous issues and do not anticipate any additional ones in the future.

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