Colorado colleges and universities are no longer allowed to withhold degrees or transcripts because of a student’s unpaid debt — thanks to legislation Governor Jared Polis signed into law Thursday.
Bill 1049 prohibits higher education institutions from refusing to provide transcripts or diplomas to students who have unpaid fees, parking tickets, or other minor charges. Additionally, if a student owes tuition, financial aid, or room and board, institutions cannot withhold transcripts or diplomas if the student needs them to apply for a job, credit transfer, financial aid, or post-secondary opportunities, such as joining the military.
“They can’t earn money to pay their bills if they can’t find a job. They can’t get jobs without their transcripts,” Polis said. “It will help meet some of the labor needs that we have in our state.”
The Senate passed the bill in a 20-13 vote in March, and the House approved it, 40-24, in February. The bill crossed both chambers almost exclusively along party lines, with all Republicans opposed to the bill and all Democrats in favor – except for Democratic Representative Dylan Roberts of Eagle, who voted against the measure.
Opponents said the bill would encourage students not to pay their debts and could cause colleges and universities to raise tuition fees to compensate for funds lost by not being able to withhold diplomas and transcripts.
During the 2019-2020 school year, higher education institutions in Colorado collected about $242 million in student debt by withholding transcripts, according to the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
Proponents of the bill said the relief would give students the opportunity to earn the money needed to pay off their debt. Nationally, 6.6 million students owe about $15 billion in unpaid debt, according to the Colorado Department of Higher Education.
“We have an opportunity here to support our own students and grow our talent at home,” said Bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver. “During the pandemic of the past two years, people have to make tough decisions about what they can afford. Knowing that a diploma, certificate or diploma can be withheld for parking tickets breaks our hearts.
The bill also prohibits institutions from charging higher fees or giving less favorable treatment to a request for a transcript or diploma because a student is in debt. Students from outside the United States are exempt from the ban.
The law went into effect immediately after it was signed by Polis on Thursday due to the addition of a security clause.