What you need to know about blocked credits | Pay for college

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When requesting an apartment, Morel’s transcript was requested. It was then that she learned that she was on hold because of almost $ 5,000 in unpaid fees. Until the debt is repaid, Morel will not be able to re-enroll or complete his studies.

This phenomenon, known as blocked credits, affects an estimated 6.6 million students who owe U.S. colleges estimated $ 15 billion in outstanding balances, according to a 2020 study. research report by Ithaca S + R.

“It’s a tough situation having to pay thousands of dollars on top of trying to support yourself,” says Morel. “Having this stop on your transcript is devastating. It puts the brakes on your dreams.

What are blocked credits?

Numerous colleges maintain policies that require the retention of transcripts or diplomas for current and former students with unpaid institutional debt, which prevents students from accessing their earned credits to enroll in courses, earn a degree or re-register, according to experts.

This debt can relate not only to tuition fees or unpaid accommodation and board, but also non-course expenses such as parking tickets and unpaid library fees. And the outstanding debt often bears interest. What started out as a $ 50 parking ticket, for example, can increase to hundreds of dollars if left unresolved.

“To think that an institution of higher education, which tries to help people obtain degrees, would in fact limit the number of degrees compared to sometimes relatively insignificant costs” for the institution, explains William FL Moses, director general education program of the Kresge Foundation. .

Often, students who quit school according to Julia Karon, stock analyst at Ithaca S + R.

“Students find themselves in this impasse where they owe their institution money, but because they don’t have their transcripts, they are unable to find a job that would allow them to earn enough money to reimburse tuition fees, ”she adds.

Deductions from transcripts can also result in the loss of credits for students seeking to re-enroll at another institution. For example, if a student has accumulated a year and a half of credits at their original institution but owed money, those credits are not available until the debt is repaid.

“If they can’t repay that original institution but want to continue their education, they have to start over and all those credits are lost,” says Catharine Bond Hill, Managing Director of Ithaka S + R. “It makes things more expensive and takes longer to graduate. So (failed credits) are detrimental to the level of education.

How to reduce the risk of earning blocked credits

Although outgoing student loans or obtaining financial aid may be necessary for some students, the possible consequences and risks need to be better understood, according to Sosanya Jones, associate professor of educational leadership and political studies at Howard University in Washington, DC

She recommended meeting with a financial aid advisor and establishing relationships with university advisers. Counseling workshops allow students to ask questions about a variety of financial decisions, such as taking out loans and the cost of withdrawing from a class.

“Institutions are not necessarily always user-friendly because some of their processes and guidelines are confusing,” Jones explains. “They are not very transparent about the way they do business. Especially for students who are not used to a university environment and may not have anyone to help them, they really get lost in the system.

Ways to resolve blocked credits

For students who find themselves with blocked credits, the first step is to contact the school registrar’s office and explain their situation. In some cases, exceptions are made.

“When we figured out why (students) needed their transcripts published, we made exceptions and published their transcripts,” said Kim Bogle Jubinville, senior vice president and director of studies at University of Southern New Hampshire. “This is what prompted us to reassess our policy. I would infer that a number of higher education institutions would do the same.”

Another option is for students to find out if their institution has a debt relief program.

For example, Wayne State University in Detroit launched the Warrior Way Back program in 2018 to provide up to $ 1,500 in debt relief to returning students. To be eligible, students must have at least a GPA 2.0 and have not taken a course at WSU for at least two years. Debt to WSU is canceled over three semesters or upon graduation, whichever comes first.

The program supports adult learners like Carmelita Steele, whose institutional debt has been relieved by nearly $ 1,000. Over the course of a few decades, she took a hiatus and resumed her studies several times due to family responsibilities. But Steele is now on track to complete his degree in political science and peace and conflict studies next semester.

“Wayne State has a very supportive program and they’re one of the first to really stretch and bring students back so you can feel like you can be successful,” she says.

“Stranded credits is such an insidious and widespread problem and it has gone on for so long, unnoticed, because no one has really talked about it,” Jones said. “It’s just taken for granted in college life, that if you owe money, you just sit down. No one really questioned it, it’s just the way the business was done.

But now states are starting to take it into account. In 2020, the California Assembly passed a law that prohibits a school from posting a transcript for a current or former student if a debt is owed, among other restrictions.

Some institutions choose to reassess these related financial aid practices and policies. SNHU, for example, recently began to waive transcripts and fees and release the diplomas of 2,257 students whose transcripts were withheld in the past year. The average amount owed by these students was $ 728.

Likewise, the City University of New York announced in July its intention to release 74,000 transcripts for students enrolled in semesters during the coronavirus pandemic who experienced financial difficulties. The CUNY Comeback program, using federal stimulus funds, will also eliminate $ 125 million in unpaid institutional debt for at least 50,000 students and recent graduates.

“We are very attached to our students as individuals, but we are also very attached to New York City and New York State,” said Felix V. Matos Rodríguez, Chancellor of CUNY. “We see this as part of our responsibility to participate in the city’s economic recovery. ”

Morell was one of those students who learned about the canceled debt. Thanks to this, she was able to continue her studies at CUNY this fall.

“It was a huge weight that was taken off my shoulders,” says Morell. “It was really like someone heard me.”

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