Higher One Holdings Inc., the college-payment processor founded by three Yale students, is seeking a buyer and has contacted private-equity firms, said three people with knowledge of the discussions.

Higher One is using Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to canvass potential buyers, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is private. The New Haven, Conn.-based company's market value topped $600 million yesterday.

Higher One vies with units of SLM Corp. and PNC Financial Services Group Inc., helping schools issue bills and process tuition payments and refunds online and serving about 6.2 million students and more than 800 campuses. The company also offers online banking and debit-card services to students.

Its shares rose 7.7% to $11.98 at 10:54 a.m. in New York after earlier climbing as much as 22%.

Ken Goff, a Higher One spokesman, said it's the company's policy not to comment on "rumor or speculation."

"We continue to be committed to our market and serving our customers," he added. Tiffany Galvin of Goldman Sachs declined to comment.

Regulatory scrutiny prompted at least one private-equity firm to end talks with Higher One, one of the people said. In May, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group said in a report that campus debit-card programs sometimes charge fees that are "unnecessary and unfair" and that the companies use "aggressive" marketing.

The report highlighted Higher One's role, saying one in eight recipients of federal financial aid receive disbursements through a Higher One account. Two Democratic lawmakers in June asked the Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to look into PIRG's findings.

Mark Volchek, Higher One's chief executive officer, said in a June presentation to analysts that some of the PIRG report's conclusions were overblown or didn't apply to Higher One. Volchek founded the company in 2000 with fellow students Miles Lasater and Sean Glass.

Lightyear Capital LLC, a New York-based private-equity firm, is Higher One's largest shareholder, with a stake of more than 25 percent as of March, according to a regulatory filing. The holding stems from a $75 million investment in 2008.

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