A new bill that would ban universities from withholding diplomas and transcripts passed in the Colorado Senate on March 31 and now awaits approval by Governor Jared Polis.
Colorado House Bill 1049 prohibits universities from withholding a student’s diploma or transcript if the student has unpaid debts to the school. If students owe nominal fees like parking tickets or library fees, universities can no longer withhold the diploma or transcript. If the debt is more substantial — like tuition or room and board — universities cannot withhold documents as long as the student needs the records for a job, military or another university.
UCCS Director of Financial Services Ryan Grodman believes that the bill passing is an overall positive for students since it allows them to get their degree and transcript, even if they owe the university a debt. However, he warned that removing this tool would force some universities to begin sending students to collections for unpaid debts, which can adversely impact students in other ways.
“[Is it] a good thing for students? Absolutely. I don’t think it’s a bad thing in any regard. I think that it does create challenges for the university but nothing that’s insurmountable,” Grodman said. “I think it’s good because it does allow students certain opportunities. Conversely, though, it doesn’t prevent schools from sending students to collections.”
Presently, if a student owes any debt, the University of Colorado can withhold the student’s diploma and transcript until the student pays the debt. This includes any debt from tuition, room and board or even library fines.
The new bill still allows universities to withhold documents for tuition, room and board and financial aid. However, universities are prohibited from withholding if the student needs the diploma to secure employment, join the military or provide to another school.
“So, the general consensus is that [the exceptions cover] basically everything, which means that regardless of what their debt type is, we’re going to have to give the transcript, so there’s not really much reason to put up much of a fight against this,” Grodman said.
He also said the bill’s effect on UCCS students would be negligible. Grodman said, “We already make exceptions for students who are requesting transcripts for employers and things like that. Generally, they don’t go to the student. We will ask for the employer information, and just send it directly to the employer, or to the other university, or to the military or whoever.”
Opponents of the bill said that removing this collection option from universities would cause student fees to rise to compensate for the uncollected debt. According to the Colorado Department of Higher Education, “Higher education institutions in Colorado recouped approximately $242 million in student debt through transcript withholding.”
Grodman said this number is hard to quantify because “there’s not a clean way for any campus in Colorado in the UC system nationwide to say this is the reason the student specifically paid the [debt].”
He continued, “It’s in [bill opposers’] best interest to say this is how much we might be potentially unable to collect because of this legislation. And just set it at the highest point because it’s a shocking number. But it’s not. That’s not a realistic number, to be honest.”
Since the bill is still waiting to pass, UCCS policy will remain the same. However, Grodman said, “Once the legislation passes, we will send out a notification on any policy changes to the students as a whole. But until that point, we’re just in a holding pattern.”
Students with questions are encouraged to contact the Bursar’s office at [email protected].