Vendor error delays 10,000 AlamoCash cards
Presidents say textbook help is available for needy students.
Published: Monday, September 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012 10:09
The vendor for AlamoCash cards neglected to produce debit cards for 10,000 students, trustees learned at the Audit, Budget and Finance Committee Tuesday in Killen Center.
On July 26, 2011, the board of trustees unanimously approved a $320,000 five-year contract to Heartland Payment Systems to provide a debit card: the AlamoCash card.
Effective during the summer, the AlamoCash card was launched to save money on paper, postage and employee labor.
AlamoCash cards are used for refunds to students, including financial aid disbursements.
Diane Snyder, vice chancellor for finance and administration, said no revenue is generated from issuing the cards, but an estimated $70,000 will be saved annually on paper and postage.
College officials discovered Aug. 21 that the order received had omitted cards for 10,000 students.
Officials in the district finance and fiscal services department were not available for comment Thursday to specify the number of cards ordered.
On Aug. 23, Snyder said Heartland hand-carried the cards by plane.
She said fiscal services made an arrangement with the U.S. Postal Service to ensure the cards were delivered by the Aug. 24 distribution deadline.
A total of 23,569 cards distributed $32.32 million to students for the summer and fall semesters.
“One of the things we did this for is just to have a tighter control process because it’s so many students, so much money,” Snyder said.
For fiscal year 2010-11, 112,500 checks were mailed to 37,500 students who received $160 million in disbursements and refunds.
Snyder said that the benefits of the card include free ATM withdraws from ATMs on campus that bear the AlamoCash card logo and two free withdrawals at ATMs off campus.
The card can be used for purchases anywhere Discover is accepted, and students can request a check instead or a transfer funds to another debit card or bank account.
Campus student ID cards issued since this summer can act as a replacement card.
Students who do not have the new student ID card can receive one at no cost.
At this college, student IDs can be obtained in Room 200A of Fletcher Administration Center.
Students who want to use their student ID card to withdraw from ATMs have to activate the card by calling 866-930-4065.
There is a $10 charge for lost AlamoCash cards, she said.
District 1 trustee Joe Alderete asked if there was a time limit for students to use their student ID card.
Snyder said there is no time limit, but student ID cards can be used only to withdraw from an ATM.
She said other functions are being planned for the student ID cards, such as the ability to use the ID cards to pay for GoPrint services.
Snyder said checks were still dispersed during the summer and fall because there was a commitment to make sure refunds were received by the disbursement deadline.
A total of 3,221 checks distributed $1.82 million to students during the summer and fall.
According to the Department of Education disbursement timeline window, financial aid refunds cannot be issued earlier than 10 days before the first day of classes, and no later than 14 days after the date the balance occurred on the student’s account.
She said this semester’s disbursement schedule was targeted for Aug. 24 before classed started Aug. 27.
District 3 trustee Anna Bustamante said, “The Friday before does not seem to be very effective.”
However, Snyder said the distribution schedule is tied to when students register.
She said Chancellor Bruce Leslie has instructed a team to rethink the registration process.
“I think this calendar we will be looking at to see where can we get the win-win. If we cut off registration earlier, then we can give them their money earlier, or maybe there’s other creative ways that we can come up with,” Snyder said.
Alderete asked how the district deals with students who received the financial aid 14 days after the first day of classes and could not buy required textbooks or materials.
“We may be losing some really wonderful students,” he said.
Snyder said offices of the college presidents have cash cards that they can provide to students in need, similar to a scholarship.
Robert Garza, interim vice president of student affairs at Palo Alto College, said $100-$300 book cards, depending on the need of the student, are available for students at Palo Alto who have not received financial aid.
He said students are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and are usually referred by the financial aid office.
President Robert Zeigler said this college has a similar procedure but thinks the colleges needs to do a better job on informing students that help is available.
Dr. Adena Loston, president of St. Philip’s College, said a textbook loan program is available at St. Philip’s but runs on a first-come-first-served basis.
She said the most common textbooks are available in the library for students to check out for two hours.