(North Canton, OH – Dec. 9, 2021) – There’s good news for Northeast Ohio college students with “stranded credits” – those they’ve earned but can’t access because their former institution is holding their transcript as collateral for an unpaid balance to the institution.
Beginning this month, Stark State College and seven other Northeast Ohio higher education institutions will work with Ithaka S+R, a provider for strategic advice and support services to academic and cultural communities, to design and pilot a compact to settle institutional debt and release transcripts of returning students with those stranded credits.
An estimated 6.6 million students nationally have stranded credits with average balances ranging from $631 for former community college students to $4,400 for former students at research universities.
The pilot program plans outreach to students this spring, with students beginning re-enrollment through the compact as early as fall.
Stranded credits have a broad impact. Students with stranded credits are unable to confirm their credentials to seek employment or transfer credits to continue their education, along with bearing the significant burden of debt collection. Institutions typically only recoup pennies on the dollar when balances are sent to collections and many students give up on furthering their education, reducing enrollments. In communities, these administrative impediments stifle adult education and training needed to fill in-demand jobs, hindering economic development.
The compact offers a win-win-win solution designed around three core features:
- Participating institutions agree to settle institutional debts and release transcripts for former students who re-enroll in their own or any other participating institution
- The institutions, Ithaka S+R, and regional community-based organizations conduct proactive outreach to eligible students and advise students on a re-enrollment plan that is right for them.
- Participating institutions engage in periodic financial transactions to account for resolved debts for students who enroll somewhere other than their previous institution.
“Stark State College has an open access mission, making it our job to provide affordable, accessible education and training for all,” said Stephanie Sutton, Ed.D, vice president of enrollment management at Stark State College. “We are proud to be part of this compact that will remove the barrier of stranded credits and open doors for many students in Northeast Ohio to return to school.”
Stark State and the other participants – Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Kent State University, Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College, the University of Akron and Youngstown State University – already have significant transfer pipelines among themselves.
The Ohio Department of Higher Education released guidance last spring permitting institutions to develop “comeback” programs to settle debt for returning students, including cross-institutional programs. Chancellor Randy Gardner and his team, as well as the Inter-University Council of Ohio and the Ohio Association of Community Colleges, have been supportive of the pilot’s organization. Ohio’s business and not-for-profit communities also have been enthusiastic about the initiative, which has received generous financial support from Lumina Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.