Every year, thousands of New York’s college students get caught in the “transcript trap” — where students are prevented from accessing their academic records because of a past debt owed to their college (also known as “institutional debt”). Without access to their official transcript, students are not only unable to reenroll or transfer to another college — their credit is ruined, their total debt load increases due to collection fees and interest, and they may even be sued.

As students and advocates across the country are fighting to end transcript withholding, Young Invincibles, the Student Borrower Protection Center, and the Community Service Society of New York took a closer look at how transcript withholding policies are impacting New York’s student borrowers. We analyzed a sample of more than 1,000 SUNY students whose outstanding institutional debt resulted in a lawsuit from the state Attorney General. Our analysis found that transcript withholding disproportionately affects communities of color in New York:

    • Zip codes with the most densely Latino populations have, on average, eight times more transcript withholding cases than zip codes with the least densely Latino populations.
    • Zip codes with the most densely Black populations have, on average, almost ten times more transcript withholding cases than zip codes with the least densely Black populations.

While these figures paint a troubling picture, the lived experiences of these individuals are even more haunting. Consider one of the students our partners have worked with: a young mother living in a homeless shelter, who graduated from a college on Long Island and couldn’t access her transcript due to a past debt — preventing her from securing a job that would have helped her family leave the shelter system.

The “transcript trap” has a devastating impact on all students, but particularly students of color, low-income, and first-generation college students who lack the resources or tools to address these outstanding debts. Students may abandon their college education, often leaving them worse off than if they had not attempted to obtain an education. While this punitive practice has tremendous impact on individuals, research by the Student Borrower Protection Center shows schools typically receive only cents on the dollar when they do collect on institutional debts using transcript withholding. The minimal change to schools’ balance sheets does not justify the long-lasting harm to thousands of students.

States are beginning to step up to protect students by prohibiting past debts from blocking students’ ability to complete college and enter into living-wage careers. In 2019, California passed legislation preventing colleges from withholding students’ transcripts. Washington State and Louisiana recently passed legislation on the issue, and Ohio is currently considering a bill to reduce the barrier that transcript withholding places on low-income, Black, and brown students.

New York must stand with students and pass Assembly Bill A6938A, which ends transcript withholding in New York, and allow more students the opportunity to re-enter and graduate from college.

Can you take two minutes and urge New York’s leaders: end transcript withholding and pass Assembly Bill A6938A?