Can a College Withhold Transcripts?

Starting July 2024, most colleges are no longer allowed to withhold transcripts if you owe an unpaid balance or defaulted on a student loan.
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Written by Eliza Haverstock
Lead Writer
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Lead Assigning Editor
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Public and private colleges in most states are no longer allowed to withhold your academic transcripts if you have an unpaid balance of any amount, or if you've defaulted on a student loan. A new U.S. Department of Education rule that took effect July 1 intends to curb transcript withholding nationwide.

Specifically, the new rule will prevent colleges from withholding transcripts for any course credits a student paid for with federal financial aid, including federal loans, grants or work-study funds. It’s part of a regulation package finalized on Oct. 24, 2023, which also increases oversight of for-profit colleges.

Roughly 6.6 million students in the U.S. cannot obtain their transcripts due to as much as $15 billion in unpaid balances, according to an October 2020 report by Ithaka S+R, a not-for-profit research and consulting firm. Some states, including California and New York, have already banned the practice at their public colleges and universities, while Washington has limited it to certain situations.

Consequences of transcript withholding

Transcript withholding most affects students at community colleges, which tend to enroll people who have less access to higher education, including Black and Latinx students, older students and first-generation students, according to a data analysis by Policy Matters Ohio.

Students whose transcripts are withheld don’t necessarily owe large amounts. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of institutions say they withhold transcripts for unpaid balances as low as $25, according to the results of a 2020 survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, a nonprofit professional association.

If your transcript is withheld, here are some potential consequences:

  • It could prevent you from attending a new school. Whether you’re trying to finish a degree, transferring to a new college or applying to graduate school, a withheld transcript means you could be blocked from acceptance into a new academic institution.

  • It could hurt your job prospects. If your academic credentials cannot be verified, you could be disqualified from a job, depending on the employer. In some cases, you might not be allowed to sit for professional exams without a transcript.

  • You won’t be able to access new student loans. If your transcript is being withheld due to a student loan in default, you won’t be able to take on new federal student loans.

What can you do if your school is withholding your transcript?

If your school still withholds your official transcript, submit a student loan complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You can also request an unofficial transcript; the school must provide you with one, and it might satisfy the requirements of an employer or another college you’re applying to.

  • Find out the amount you owe. Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out how much money you need to repay in order to obtain your complete transcript. Ithaka S+R found the average amount students owe is about $2,300.

  • Pay the balance if you can afford it. Depending on the amount you owe, try to pay off the past-due amount.

  • Negotiate a payment plan. Talk to your school’s financial aid office about a potential payment plan, and get a concrete timeline for when your transcripts will be released.

  • Consider a loan, but be aware of the costs. You can’t take on a new federal student loan to pay off past-due balances, but if you absolutely need to get rid of your debt immediately, some private student loans or personal loans may be available to cover past-due debt. You’ll have to meet income and credit requirements to qualify, and these loans could carry high interest rates and fees.

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