Thousands of college students in Northeast Ohio who left school without a degree and owe money to their former college now have a pathway back to settle the debt and continue their education.

Beginning this month, the Ohio College Comeback Compact is contacting approximately 15,000 students with a new proposition: come back to any public college in the region, even if you owe money and your transcript is being held because of it. Eligible students who previously attended one of eight colleges and universities in Northeast Ohio can register for classes at any of these institutions. As students make progress toward a degree or certificate, they can get up to $5,000 in debt owed to their former college or university forgiven.

Until this program became available, many students eligible to participate could not take college courses anywhere. For students who owed money, often their former college or university held their transcript and prevented them from registering; without an official transcript, students could not enroll in other colleges, either. The Ohio College Comeback Compact presents an opportunity for these students to continue pursuing their education, settle the debt, and free their transcripts.

The Ohio College Comeback Compact is the first effort of its kind. It is a collaboration among eight public colleges and universities, supported by nonprofits Ithaka S+R and College Now Greater Cleveland, as well as the Ohio Department of Higher Education. The eight participating institutions are Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Kent State University, Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College, Stark State College, The University of Akron, and Youngstown State University.

The Compact is based on Ithaka S+R’s research, which estimates that 6.6 million individuals nationally have “stranded credits,” meaning credits that students have earned but cannot access because their former institution is holding their transcript as collateral for an unpaid balance to the institution. These administrative holds often keep students from reenrolling or accessing their transcript for transfer or employment purposes. Stranded credits disproportionately affect students of color and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, which makes finding a solution a critical equity issue as well.

The Compact’s unique structure has three core features:

  • Compact institutions will forgive up to $5,000 of institutional debt and release transcripts for former students who reenroll in their own or any other participating institution.
  • Proactive outreach and student-centered advising will notify former students about the opportunity and enable them to create a reenrollment plan that works for them.
  • Cross-institutional payments will account for students who enroll somewhere other than their previous institution to ensure that the Compact is a win-win for everyone involved.

This work builds on existing college comeback efforts at the participating institutions and throughout Ohio, and continued partnerships are crucial for success. The entire Northeast Ohio region stands to benefit from the Ohio College Comeback Compact: students will be on track to earn a degree or certificate; colleges will gain tuition revenue through increased enrollment; and the local economy will thrive as more individuals are better prepared for a wide variety of jobs.

“The Ohio Department of Higher Education is committed to working with the outstanding public colleges and universities in Northeast Ohio to make the Ohio College Comeback Compact a success,” said Randy Gardner, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education. “Ohio companies need educated workers, and that need is growing with the unprecedented number of multinational companies moving to our state. The goal of the Ohio College Comeback Compact is to encourage adults to return to college to finish degrees so they can advance their careers in our growing economy.”

For more information, visit the Ohio College Comeback Compact website.

This work is made possible through the generous financial support from Lumina Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Joyce Foundation, and with technical assistance from Learn to Earn Dayton. If you have questions about the Compact, please reach out to Ithaka S+R at