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A recently released report, the second in a two-part series, examines hold data from 317 undergraduate-serving institutions during the 2020-21 academic year. Published by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) and Lumina Foundation, “Stop! Do Not Pass Go! Institutional Practices Impeding Undergraduate Student Advancement: Part 2 A National Sample of Policy and Practice” shares that 95 percent of colleges and universities use transcript holds, and 99 percent use registration holds. The first report was a smaller exploratory study of student-level hold data from 14 institutions.

Since holds are primarily used by schools to motivate students to take a certain action, the survey asked participants if they agreed with that concept. Regarding transcript holds, 58 percent agreed “a great deal” or “a lot,” and 73 percent said the same for registration holds.

A student debt to the institution is the most common reason a hold is applied, followed by student code-of-conduct violations and academic probation/suspension. While stand-alone registration holds are commonplace, stand-alone transcript holds are not, according to the data. “A hold based on a library fine or library material not returned is the highest reported use of a stand-alone transcript hold with 14 percent of respondents indicating this type of hold exists at their institution,” the report reads.

Participants were invited to answer open-ended questions to describe student populations most impacted by holds. One of the populations identified was first-generation students, suggesting the need for better communication from colleges and universities on the use of holds. However, just a small portion of the respondents indicated they only notified students of a hold when the students attempt to register or access a transcript. Most institutions reported using several methods to communicate holds to students—including a notification in the student portal, auto-generated email messages, personal emails, and other means—prior to when those students request an official transcript.

To assist students in need due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 67 percent of responding institutions indicated the use of Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund dollars to forgive student debt associated with registration and/or transcript holds.

The report also includes recommendations for colleges and universities that mirror those proposed in the exploratory study. Some highlights from the recommendations include examining the value of a hold versus other motivators, clearly communicating how a student can resolve a hold, and evaluating whether there is a negative consequence to allowing a student to register for future terms with an outstanding balance.


Bryan Dickson

Director, Student Financial Services and Educational Programs


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