July 20, 2022
In January, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that, effective immediately, the State University of New York system was no longer withholding transcripts from students who owed outstanding balances. The move benefited thousands of students.
Transcript holds prevent students from receiving official copies of their academic records. If students can’t afford to pay their debts, their credits become stranded and they are left with no way to formally document their previous learning for employers or other colleges where they might want to enroll.
New York is part of a wave of states and institutions enacting policies to help students regain access to stranded credits, according to a new report from Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit research firm focused on higher education.
An estimated 6.6 million students in the U.S. have stranded credits, according to 2020 Ithaka S+R research. While the federal government’s guidance no longer promotes transcript withholding, the U.S. Department of Education has not released an updated directive on the subject, leaving the issue to states and institutions.
State efforts to limit transcript holds
Eight states have passed laws prohibiting or limiting the use of transcript holds: California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Washington. In one of the strictest bans, California prevents public and private colleges from withholding transcripts for students with unpaid balances.
But a ban does not address both parts of the issue — the transcript and the unpaid balance — according to Sarah Pingel, senior researcher at Ithaka S+R and author of the report.