Banks vs. Students (and Their Rights)

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

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