It’s time to end the transcript trap

Colleges and universities should not use debt to block access to academic records

NEARLY 100,000 STUDENTS and graduates at Massachusetts’s public colleges and universities have been held in a transcript ransom, making them among the 6.6 million nationwide impacted by this unfair practice. Chances are you know one of these people or you are one. Either way, you’re reading an article written by three of them.

Higher education institutions have been withholding academic transcripts and degrees as punishment for unpaid balances to the school. These fees can come from tuition, room and board, parking fines, library balances, late charges and other miscellaneous costs students may not even know they owe.

An Act Ensuring Students’ Access to Academic Transcripts (S.821/H.1347) is the solution. Sponsored by state Sen. Harriette Chandler and Rep. David LeBoeuf, this legislation would simply ensure access to academic transcripts to protect anyone seeking employment or further education from the arbitrary withholding of their transcripts. While this would not prevent colleges and universities from collecting debts they are legally owed, it confirms that transcript withholding will not be a consequence of owing this debt.

By denying students and graduates access to their own transcripts, colleges and universities put these current and former students in an extremely vulnerable position. Since most jobs require applicants to present their transcripts as a part of the application process, colleges and universities are knowingly creating an unnecessary and unjust barrier to job attainment. Students and graduates need jobs to survive, let alone pay off their student loans and outstanding balances with their schools.

For one of us (Ashley Saloman), the transcript barrier came after being forced on medical leave by Northeastern University and left with a $10,000 bill. Ashley decided to serve AmeriCorps to pay off this balance, but the university refused this scholarship and held onto her transcript. Not having this official transcript consigned her to subordinate positions and even though she has the knowledge, experience, and skills for higher-level employment.

This trap also burdens students trying to apply for graduate school or transfer their credits to another school. For Olivia Rosa, this came four years after graduating from Cambridge College when she decided to pursue a graduate degree at another university. She was shocked to learn that her admissions application was delayed and her fellowship opportunity was at risk because she had not received her transcript from her undergraduate program. This transcript was on hold over an outstanding balance of $0.05!

For Gabriel Toro, this barrier came during college when they received an email from the UMass Boston bursar’s office stating they owed $2,715.33 for reasons they are still unsure of. They couldn’t find anyone to explain it to them and all they knew was $200 of it was a graduation fee, which they weren’t told was mandatory initially. Gabriel knew they needed their transcript in order to get a job to pay their $50,000 federal student loan.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author
Meet the Author
Meet the Author
Public institutions are making a clear statement that this practice is an acceptable measure of control, regardless of the burdens it puts on their students and alumni. It is time for the Commonwealth to give ownership of credits back to make economic mobility a priority for the state’s students and college and university graduates.

Olivia Rosa is a graduate student in education and a community and engagement fellow at Merrimack College. Ashley Salomon is a restorative justice specialist at the Suffolk University Center for Restorative Justice. Gabriel Toro is an account manager at Lockton Companies. Kristina Carvalho is policy and community organizing director at Zero Debt Massachusetts.