Almost exactly three years after Ithaka S+R first published national research on “stranded credits”—credits that students have earned but can’t access because their college is holding their transcript and blocking registration until they pay a balance due—the federal government is on the verge of eliminating transcript withholding as a debt collection practice.

In a new op-ed in The Hill, we discuss a package of regulations issued by the US Education Department and aimed at protecting beneficiaries of Federal Student Aid, including rules that will prohibit most transcript withholding for individuals who owe money to their former college or university.

The Department’s action is a cause for celebration for those who support student success, educational attainment, and workforce development. The new restrictions on transcript withholding will severely limit an unfair practice that has prevented many thousands from proving their educational achievements to employers or other colleges.

At the same time, prohibiting transcript withholding is an incomplete solution to the multitude of challenges that institutional debt imposes on both students and colleges and universities. We must build on the momentum of the new federal regulations and highly promising institutional and state programs to address the roots of the problem: resolving the institutional debt and providing clear, supported pathways back into higher education.

With the Education Department’s broad prohibition on transcript withholding, we now have the opportunity to further transform students’ lives and careers; help colleges and universities better meet enrollment goals; and ensure local and regional workforces are better prepared for the future.

At Ithaka S+R, we are working to minimize the financial and administrative barriers for returning students to earn a credential. If you would like to collaborate with Ithaka S+R to support returning students through funding this work, receiving technical assistance, or implementing a program similar to the Ohio College Comeback Compact, please contact Liz Looker, Senior Program Manager, at