Transcript withholding impedes learners from reaching their full potential

Thanks to the leadership of Colorado State House Representatives Jennifer Bacon and Naquetta Ricks, and Colorado State Senators Brittany Pettersen and Jeff Bridges, the Colorado General Assembly has passed legislation that would prohibit local colleges and universities from withholding transcripts from students who have unpaid balances to the schools.

This is categorically the right move. 

Withholding transcripts is an obstacle to greater economic opportunity for millions of students across the country. At Guild, we’ve urged Colorado Governor Polis to sign this bill into law as quickly as possible, and we’d also like to see a national movement on this important and often under-covered issue, including from leaders at higher education institutions who have the power to end this practice without government action.

Under current policy, more than 6.6 million students nationwide cannot get their transcripts from their higher education institutions because of unpaid bills they owe, according to research group Ithaka S+R. These bills range from as little as $25 for an unpaid parking ticket to several thousand dollars for unpaid tuition balances. Regardless of the amount, withholding transcripts prevents students from applying for financial aid, getting jobs, and pursuing additional skills training to advance their careers. 

The practice adds an onerous element to debt collecting and penalizes students. As a result, Washington, California, and Louisiana have already banned the policy. Minnesota, Ohio, and New York are also considering prohibiting it, and it has come under scrutiny at the federal level from U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

Withholding transcripts also harms the working adult learners that Guild serves, and stands in stark contrast to our mission. The practice perpetuates penalties from student debt burdens and prevents learners from getting credit for work they’ve already done. 

Guild’s mission is to unlock opportunity for America’s workforce — education, skill-building, and coaching are all means to help workers achieve that opportunity. We try to meet students where they are in their education and career journey, and removing barriers such as withholding transcripts will enable students to pursue the skills they need to advance.

Guild is designed in a way to help dismantle additional barriers for students. We’ve developed a modern solution for employer-backed tuition reimbursement, which prevents students from accruing debt in the first place. Through our payments integration system, employees do not pay out of pocket for their tuition. Instead, their employers pay tuition on behalf of their workers. We’re proud that 97% of the learners we support using tuition assistance graduate with no debt from tuition, textbooks, or fees. 

Eliminating the practice of withholding transcripts won’t erase the crippling weight of student loan debt. It will, however, discontinue one harmful policy that punishes students for such debt. This is a vital issue, and the bill to ban the practice is a critical tool Colorado must uphold if it wants to help break apart a system that for too long has held students back. We encourage other states to follow Colorado’s lead so students do not face additional barriers to economic mobility or financial security for their families.

Written by Rachel Carlson

CEO & Co-Founder

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