Stranded credit refers to credit that is being held “hostage” by a college or university. This can be a huge problem for anyone earning college credit before, during, or after high school. In this post I’ll explain how this happens and how you can avoid it from happening to your teen.
Imagine your teen enrolls at ABC College and takes English 101. The class is wonderful and engaging. Your teen loves the professor and earns an “A” easily (yeah!).
Upon acceptance into XYZ University, they request all prior transcripts, so your son requests his transcript from ABC College. He learns that he has a “hold” on his transcript, and they won’t release his transcript until the hold is cleared. XYZ University won’t enroll your teen without the transcript, so you now rush to figure out what’s going on and how to get that transcript ASAP. What’s going on?
Education Commission of the States released a policy brief last year outlining the growing issue of administrative holds and how they result in stranded credit.
What Are Administrative Holds?
“Administrative hold” is an umbrella term for the various types of holds that
postsecondary institutions can place on students’ accounts. There are 4 main types of holds a college or university can place that all lock your teen’s transcript.
- Compliance: Students are not compliant with institutional requirements,
such as providing immunization records or participating in required
- Conduct: A student has violated the code of conduct, or an
investigation into a violation is underway.
- Financial: Students have an overdue financial obligation to an institution,
including for tuition and fees, parking tickets, library fines or housing fees.
- Academic progress: A student’s persistence or completion is at risk and
they may need to meet with an academic advisor.
Colleges may use reasons like those above to prevent students from registering for
classes, re-enrolling or accessing a transcript, a diploma or other records! This happens to students in high school as well as those who have graduated- in other words, just because your teen is dual enrolled, does not mean they are immune to an academic hold.
The inability to access an official transcript will prevent current or former students from transferring (enrolling) in college elsewhere, and possibly prevent pursuing a military career or applying for employment.
But how do they know?
You might be wondering how your teen’s future college even knows they took English 101 for dual enrollment? Simple: Student Clearinghouse.
The Student Clearinghouse is an industry-shared database that (almost) every college and university participates in. When your teen enrolls anywhere for any reason, their data is sent to the Student Clearinghouse. Their enrollment record is then available to all participating institutions. Future colleges don’t see the details of your student’s enrollment (they can’t see a GPA or transcript) but they do see a list of everywhere your student enrolled.
When any of us apply to college, the Student Clearinghouse is immediately checked. That’s how they “know” we were enrolled somewhere at some point. This will prompt them to tell you that you must send “all official transcripts from prior institutions.”
This is only a problem when you can’t get those prior transcripts. Those credits are called “stranded credits.” If, however, this happens to you, you won’t be allowed to enroll- probably forever. Academic holds are forever, so if an institution has placed a hold, your only option to get that transcript is to clear the hold.
Avoid Academic Holds
The best way to clear a hold is to avoid it from the start. If you know your teen has an academic hold for any reason, you should make sure the hold is cleared immediately.
- Every college your teen attends generates an academic record that they must be able to access forever.
- Withdrawing from a course does not clear your financial obligations! Be sure to confirm a zero balance.
- Graduating from a college does not clear financial obligations! Be sure to confirm a zero balance.
- The easiest way to confirm your teen’s account is clear is to order an official transcript from the institution (unofficial transcripts will now work). If you receive an official transcript, their account is clear. If you get blocked, it’s because of a hold and you have to find out why.
In January of 2023, my youngest son was entering his last semester of high school and we were registering for his final semester of dual enrollment. His account had an administrative hold that required a meeting with his advisor. I scheduled the first available time (the following week) and during that lag he missed the opportunity to register for his first choice for one of his classes. To add insult to injury, the meeting took 5 minutes and was nothing more than letting him know to file for graduation (he was finishing his associate degree). Since we had already filed graduation (!) the advisor thanked him for coming in and lifted the hold.
I’ve spoken to adults who have transcripts held for many reasons, usually financial. Be aware that colleges won’t always let you know if you have an outstanding debt- something as small as a $25 parking ticket can prevent you from ever getting your transcript. After years of fines and fees get piled on top, that small oversight can cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars.