The risks and benefits of institutional holds on course registration

Institutional holds on students’ ability to register for classes are meant to motivate students to complete a task, such as paying an outstanding balance, signing financial aid promissory note, or showing up for a mandatory meeting with an advisor. However, those holds—much like transcript holds—disproportionately backfire on students from underrepresented backgrounds, according to one of the findings of a Student Voice survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse.

In its analysis of the impact of institutional holds, Inside Higher Ed finds that 26% of students with learning disabilities (including dyslexia and attention deficit disorder) reported facing registration holds, compared to just 20% of students overall. A look at data by race also shows that 29% of Black students and 24% of Latine students reported having been unable to register for classes due to an institutional hold, compared to 18% of white students and 16% of Asian students.

Compared with students generally, those who had experienced a registration hold said they expected to take longer to graduate, especially those students who were the first in their families to attend college. While 70% of students overall said they expected to complete their degrees within the standard two or four years, depending on institution type, just 59% of students who experienced registration holds said they’d graduate within that time frame. Of the first-generation college students who reported having been unable to register due to institutional holds, only 50% said they’d graduate within two to four years.

Related: Survey: Nearly half of college students have not gotten academic guidance crucial to degree progress >

Used with an eye toward student success

To address the inequitable impact of registration and other institutional holds, the American Association of Collegiate Registrar and Admission Officers and the National Association of College and University Business Officers collaborated to offer practical guidelines to U.S. colleges and universities. That guidance includes:

  1. Limiting the use of holds to areas proven to produce outcomes beneficial to student success 
  2. Ensuring holds are not tied to trivial or minor debt, compared to the overall fees a student has already paid to the institution
  3. Regularly examining the use of holds and monitoring their impact on issues of equity  
  4. Permitting students to appeal registration holds for the subsequent term
  5. Establishing a payment plan option for current students with outstanding balances and allowing for the release of their official transcripts, as long as their payment plans are current
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