Monday, May 11, 2020

Unnecessary roughness: Witholding transcripts, diplomas, and professional licences from students with unpaid bills

Last week, Louisiana legislators passed a bill out of the House Education Committee that would bar colleges from withholding diplomas, transcripts, and grades because of student debt. Representative Julie Emerson from the little town of Carencro sponsored the measure. 

Jim Henderson, President of the University of Louisiana System, praised the bill. "We have a number of more effective tools that we can utilize on student debt," President Henderson said at the legislative hearing on Emerson's bill. In fact, he said, denying grades and transcripts is akin to putting students in a "debtors prison."

Most of Louisiana's private colleges are in New Orleans, and Rep. Aimee Freeman, a New Orleans legislator, managed to exclude private schools from the bill, even though no one from a private college showed up to oppose the measure. "With [private college officials] not here," Freeman said defensively, "I am feeling that I have to offer the amendment."

The practice of withholding grades and diplomas from people who owe their colleges money is only one of many punitive measures against cash-strapped college students. The New York Times carried a story in 2017 about state laws that allow agencies to seize professional licenses from student-loan defaulters. According to Times reporters, 19 states have laws on the books that allow for the revocation or suspension of professional licenses, including the credentials of nurses, teachers, firefighters, attorneys, massage therapists, barbers, psychologists, and real estate brokers.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Marco Rubio filed a bipartisan bill in 2018 that would prevent states from withholding driver's licenses and professional licenses over unpaid federal loans. The Times quoted Senator Rubio as saying, "It makes no sense to revoke a professional license from someone who is trying to pay their student loans." And Senator Warren called these policies "wrong and counterproductive."

I say Hurray to Representative Julie Emerson of Louisiana and Senators Rubio and Warren for trying to mitigate the harsh and iniquitous treatment of student-loan debtors.  And hurray to UL System President Jim Henderson, who articulated the voice of reason and compassion on behalf of Louisiana college students.

Representative Julie Emerson: Louisiana legislator

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