N.Y. Bars Transcript Withholding Over Student Bills

Originally published in Inside Higher Ed

Colleges in New York State are now barred from withholding transcripts as a means of collecting student debt.

Democratic governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation Wednesday prohibiting the practice known as “transcript ransoming,” calling it in a statement “an unfair, predatory practice that prevents our students from reaching their full potential.” The law applies to all private and public universities in the state, according to The New York Post.

Students who are unable to access their transcripts are often prevented from receiving their degrees and being hired for jobs, thus hampering their efforts to pay down their student loan debt.

According to a 2020 report by the nonprofit academic research organization Ithaka S+R, colleges have withheld transcripts for balances below $25 and have included parking and library fines. The practice penalizes low-income students and is routinely used by institutions as a punitive measure, the report said. It also noted that the transcripts of 6.6 million students nationwide were withheld by their colleges in 2020.

“Transcripts are a record of a students’ education—they are not and were never meant to be tools for debt collection,” State Senator Kevin Thomas, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement in March when the bill passed.

“Today, we put an end to this abhorrent policy for all higher education institutions to ensure a level playing field for New York’s students,” Hochul said in the statement.

The Boards of Trustees at the State University of New York and City University of New York systems voted in January to end the practice at their institutions.

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