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Media Domino: A Blog About Student Debt Texas Study Finds Withholding College Transcripts as a Means of Debt Collection is a Lose-Lose Proposition

Texas Study Finds Withholding College Transcripts as a Means of Debt Collection is a Lose-Lose Proposition

By Jessi Stafford, Senior Research Analyst, Texas Appleseed | May 22, 2024

Tlaloc Fierro went to college straight from high school. After a year, they decided to return home and go to a local community college. They tried to transfer credits but were blocked from accessing their transcript due to an unexpected $500 debt.

The challenge of the transcript hold hit at exactly the wrong time.  It had a domino effect that, combined with other challenges, eventually led Tlaloc to drop out of school. It would be more than a decade before Tlaloc was able to complete their degree. 

“Five hundred dollars was what a semester of community college cost,” Tlaloc recalled. “I was focused on trying to survive.”

In March 2024, Texas Appleseed published the report Withholding Higher Education: How Current Transcript Policies at Texas Colleges Derail Educational Aspirations and Job Opportunities for Texans, to investigate the impact withholding transcripts has on Texans.

The Texas Education Code permits higher education institutions to withhold the release of an individual’s college transcript if they have an unpaid debt to the institution. This policy has proven to be ineffective at collecting debt, with only an estimated seven cents on the dollar collected.

However, this policy is highly effective in creating barriers for Texans. College transcripts are essential for individuals wishing to further their education, build on the education they have completed following a break from school, or obtain employment.

Texas Appleseed analyzed data from six community colleges across the state to gain insight into how withholding college transcripts impacts Texans. We determined that there are nearly 55,000 outstanding debts preventing individuals from accessing their college transcript from the six schools sampled. The average amount of debt was $583, similar to Fierro’s experience. Additionally, we found that:

  • Most debts belong to individuals no longer enrolled in the institution,
  • Transcript withholding policies disproportionately harm Black students, and
  • Most debts are more than five years old.

The practice of withholding transcripts harms Texans and the Texas economy. Twelve states to date have banned, or partially banned, this practice. Our study findings add support for more states, including Texas, to follow their lead. It is time to end the practice of withholding transcripts as a debt collection strategy. Although the U.S. Department of Education recently issued new rules that will limit when schools can withhold transcripts, the rules do not apply to all students or all schools. States must continue to fill in the gaps in federal policy. Individuals, such as Tlaloc, should not be forced to overcome barriers caused by a transcript hold on their journey to completing their education.


Jessi Stafford is a Senior Research Analyst at Texas Appleseed, whose mission is to promote social, economic, and racial justice for all Texans. She is passionate about using data to inform practical policy solutions to systemic problems and promote equity in both k-12 and post-secondary education.

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