N.J. colleges can’t hold your transcript hostage under proposed state law

Published: Oct. 13, 2022

New Jersey colleges and universities will no longer be able to withhold transcripts from students and former students who owe schools money under a bill the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee unanimously passedThursday.

The move follows national efforts to stop the practice, which can prevent people from continuing their education or applying for jobs. People who have some college credits but no degree can be particularly harmed by not being able to get their transcripts, higher education officials said.

Committee chairwoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), the bill’s co-sponsor, agreed.

“I think it does a tremendous disservice to students and is a significant obstacle in our quest to encourage students to return to school and complete their education,” she said.

As of April, Rutgers University knew of 7,644 enrolled students and 20,391 former students who owed money to the university that kept them from receiving official transcripts, according to a university spokeswoman.

Eugene Lepore, executive director of the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities, told the committee the schools in his association reported average debts of $2,000. David Rousseau, vice president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of New Jersey, estimated debts ranged from $5,000 to $6,000, mostly among people who had not graduated.

Jasey said she was disappointed that New Jersey was not a national leader on this issue. Eight states have passed similar bills, with five more considering them as of August, and U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has spoken out against transcript holds.

Lepore, when asked, said it might be better to add such debts into next year’s tuition bill. He said transcript holds make it difficult for schools to re-engage with students who have stopped attending when they might otherwise be encouraged to finish their degrees.

“We need to have every tool at our disposal to help them complete degree programs,” Lepore said.

Committee members asked how students learn their unpaid debts might keep them from receiving their transcripts.

“We need to counsel them that they’re liable for it,” said Assemblywoman Annette Chaparo (D-Hudson). “They might say, ‘I didn’t know. I want to go back to school, and I have an $8,000 bill. How do I pay for that?’ We don’t have $8,000 for you to go back, but had we had a conversation prior to you withdrawing from school, maybe we could have fixed it.” Such issues were particularly troubling during the pandemic, she said.

On Wednesday, the American Council on Education and 21 other college-related organizations issued a statement calling for the end to the practice.

“In particular, withholding transcripts from, or placing enrollment holds on students who owe de minimis amounts of money to an institution can be harmful to students and counter-productive to institutional goals,” they wrote.

In September, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau directed college leaders to stop the practice for loans colleges made to their students and for deferred tuition or tuition-payment plans. The bureau called blanket policies to withhold transcripts “abusive under the Consumer Financial Protection Act.”

The state Senate Higher Education Committee has yet to vote on its version of the bill.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-10-14 02:43:34 -0700