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On November 10, the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) and Lumina Foundation published “Stop! Do Not Pass Go! Institutional Practices Impeding Undergraduate Student Advancement: Part 1 An Exploratory Study.” The report, the first in a two-part series, looks at how and why holds—for both registration and the release of official transcripts—are used at colleges and universities.

The exploratory study examined hold data from 14 institutions for academic years 2017-18 and 2018-19. Data from 2019-20 was excluded due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A second report, expected to be released later in the year, will include a national sample of policies and practices.

Holds can turn “on” and “off” multiple times in a term. The report notes, “In the two years of data, 126,500 students had one or more holds placed on their record.” The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System data for those years show that at the 14 participating schools, 83 percent of the students had one or more holds placed on their record in 2017-18. That figure decreased slightly in to 79 percent in 2018-19.

“Based on the descriptions of the holds, nearly all appear to be intended to motivate a student to take an action, such as returning a book, paying a debt, seeing an advisory, or turning in a document,” the report states. It is noted, however, that a small number of holds are used as punitive measures, “to address code-of-conduct violations and other disciplinary or public safety issues.”

Because 92 percent of debt-related holds and 85 percent of non-debt holds were resolved, the exploratory study focuses only on unresolved holds. There were 357 unique hold codes present in the data: 204 prevented registration; 40 prevented the release of an official transcript; and 113 prevented both. Of those 357 holds, 25 percent were place by the bursar, 12 percent were from student affairs, another 12 percent came from admissions and orientation, and 9 percent were placed due to academic advising. Financial aid represented 5 percent of the hold users.

Of the 11 institutions providing debt amount information, the unresolved debt totaled $15.3M across the two years, with an average hold value of $2,363. Those data may be skewed, however, since the minimum and maximum hold values were $1 and $38,413, respectively.


Bryan Dickson

Director, Student Financial Services and Educational Programs


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