June 21, 2022
Should unpaid debts to their colleges stop students from getting jobs or continuing their educations?
Some government officials don’t think so, and they are targeting transcript withholding, in which colleges and universities prevent former students from receiving academic transcripts they need for employment or enrollment at a new institution.
This is a tiny piece of the $1.7 trillion student debt problem in American higher education, but more than most, it is in the control of colleges and universities. That’s part of the reason why Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have identified transcript withholding as a possibly unfair debt collection practice.
A recent episode of The Key, Inside Higher Ed’s news and analysis podcast, explored transcript withholding in the larger context of the debt students owe to their institutions and how colleges go about collecting it.
Guests included Martin Kurzweil, director of the institutional transformation program at Ithaka S+R, and Melanie Gottlieb, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, or AACRAO. Kurzweil discussed Ithaka’s research on what he calls “stranded credits,” which colleges sometimes hold hostage from their former students, and a promising experiment that could offer a way out for colleges and students alike.
Gottlieb explained why higher ed officials think it would be a bad idea for the federal government to ban transcript holds or take other aggressive regulatory action, while acknowledging the need for colleges to limit the kinds of debt they try to collect from students. Her association joined others in issuing guidance on the practice this spring.