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New York bans colleges from withholding transcripts over student debt

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New York state has banned a tradition known as “transcript ransoming” — effectively banning colleges from withholding transcripts as a student debt collection tool.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation Wednesday ending a practice that blocks students from accessing transcripts, even when needed to finish their degrees or land jobs that could help pay back those debts.

“Transcripts are critical for students to continue pursuing their educational and career goals,” Hochul said in a statement. 

“To hold transcripts hostage until outstanding debts are paid is an unfair, predatory practice that prevents our students from reaching their full potential.”

An estimated 6.6 million students nationwide couldn’t get their transcripts from colleges and universities due to unpaid bills as low as $25 or less, according to the national education newsroom The Hechinger Report.

The outlet found those unpaid bills sometimes stemmed from costs students weren’t aware of, from room and board fees to parking or library fines.

“Transcripts are a record of a students’ education — they are not and were never meant to be tools for debt collection,” said state Sen. Kevin Thomas of Long Island, a former legal services attorney who sponsored the bill to stop the practice.

“Transcript withholding is a disruptive, counter-productive, and harmful practice that prevents students from being able to transfer credits, re-enroll in school to finish their degrees, or obtain jobs that could help them pay their balances,” he said.

The law applies to New York private and public colleges and universities alike, and comes amid a national conversation about how to address student loan debt.

President Biden said this week he has “not yet” decided the amount of student debt he would forgive —​ as White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a decision might not come until the end of August. ​

Hochul has signaled that she wanted to end transcript ransoming since the State of the State Address in January.

“I was proud to make ending transcript withholding a top priority and took action to end this practice at SUNY and CUNY in January,” she said. “Today, we put an end to this abhorrent policy for all higher education institutions to ensure a level playing field for New York’s students.”

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