Higher education has been positioned as key to generating respect, success, and wealth — especially for young Black people. My whole life I was encouraged to pursue higher education for these reasons, but with minimal help of how to understand all the financial aspects of college I learned the cost of higher education is more than just paying tuition. The first time I struggled to navigate university fees was when my unpaid parking tickets stopped me from registering for classes. I owed $350 and it took me a month and a half of putting all my extra money towards this bill to register for classes. And while I was fortunate enough to pay it, some of my friends in similar situations were not and were forced to pause school and start working full time to pay their student bills in hopes of coming back.

I learned that I needed to pay student bills in order to register for classes, but I did not know that my school would withhold my transcript from me after I graduated. While I was also applying for graduate school and needed access to my transcripts, I learned that I had a $300 charge on my student bill from when my school loaned me money to help me leave an abusive living situation. Because of transcript withholding, I could not access my transcript, which meant more barriers in applying for grad school. I felt stuck and had no idea what to do. I did what many college students do and opened a new line of credit to pay the bill to apply for graduate school.

My experience with transcript withholding is just the tip of the iceberg. There are stories of transcript withholding where people do not get the chance to finish their degrees, apply for graduate school, or receive their diplomas. This practice puts students in a position where they are unable to move forward with their education or further their careers until a debt is paid. For too many young people, especially young Black folks, we are investing in higher education as a way to attain financial security. But these institutions are presenting us with more barriers than support.

We need legislation that dismantles debt collection tactics that prevent students from re-enrolling, transferring schools, or obtaining access to employment. Financially navigating higher education is a hardship in itself and students deserve support in moving forward instead of being held back from our futures. This is why our state needs to pass HB22-1049: Prohibiting Transcript and Diploma Withholding. Passing this bill allows Black communities to continue to seek higher education instead of getting stalled when they cannot pay their debts.  And by protecting our communities from transcript withholding it ensures that people can transition through and out of higher education without worry of whether their debts will hold them back. Just because we have debts does not mean we should not be able to access our success. For too long, Black communities have experienced the brunt of predatory debt collection tactics in this country. We need financial grace and equity now! We urge you to support House Bill 1049 as a way to protect the financial health and success of Black communities.

Talaya Banks is the Let My People Vote Coordinator for Soul 2 Soul Sisters, a Denver organization created as a Black Women-led, faith-based response to anti-Black violence in the United States of America.