What’s the (hold) back?


Students who go through the enrollment pipeline process, financial aid, and other related procedures will sometimes be faced with “holds,” specifically, administrative process holds.

Administrators typically place holds on a student’s online account to urge them to act on a variety of specific tasks (much of which is guided by a federal or an institutional policy). For example, students may need to complete their financial aid documents to pay for their courses on time, pay an outstanding balance, register for classes, or finalize their admission process.

But one type of hold in particular is gaining attention for the potential negative implications it has on students. According to a recent published report examining the use of holds from the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) and Lumina Foundation, placing a transcript hold, which blocks the issuance of a college transcript, can negatively impact a student as they seek to transfer into another institution, apply to graduate school, or even apply for employment. Similarly, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is looking into institutions’ practices, specifically whether withholding a transcript for an outstanding balance constitutes a “debt collection practice.” According to CFPB: “By refusing to release official proof of studies completed, colleges, universities, and non-degree-granting institutions are keeping their students from the very academic and labor market opportunities promised by higher education.”

In a recent White House briefing, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona reiterated concerns voiced by CFPB, AACRAO, Lumina Foundation, and many other organizations, noting: “To emerge from the pandemic even stronger, institutional leaders must embrace long-term change. That means evaluating long-standing institutional policies that block retention and completion for our most underserved students, such as enrollment and transcript holds for students with unpaid balances.”  

Transcripts are an essential part of the overall educational footprint of a student. As institutions consider how each of their policies and practices are intertwined with equity considerations, there is clear momentum toward eliminating transcript holds given the ways in which holds disproportionately affect low-income students and effectively freeze their ability to take the necessary steps in their educational path.

Tiziana G. Marchante is NACAC’s Project Manager, Content Strategy & Outreach. You can reach her at tmarchante@nacacnet.org.

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