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Student loans shouldn’t deprive borrowers of the right to work

Claudio Martinez

Last week, to protect students’ rights to access the academic transcripts they have already paid for, Representative David Leboeuf filed the act to ensure students’ access to academic transcripts bill as amendment 28 to bill h.5007 (an act relating to economic growth and relief for the commonwealth). This amendment was promptly removed from the final bill language. This week, Senator Harriette Chandler has included amendment 423 into s.3018, which will be voted on by the Senate tomorrow, Thursday, July 21, 2022.

Higher education institutions have been withholding academic transcripts and degrees as punishment for unpaid balances to the school, some as small as $25. Nearly 100,000 students and graduates in Massachusetts public colleges and universities have been held in this transcript ransom, making them among the 6.6 million nationwide impacted by this unfair practice.

By denying students and graduates access to their own transcripts, they are put in an extremely vulnerable position. Since most jobs and graduate programs require applicants to present their transcripts as a part of the application process, colleges and universities are knowingly creating

an unnecessary and unjust barrier to job attainment.

State Representative Natalie Higgins sponsored and provided leadership for the passage of the Professional License Protection bill h.4339, which was passed by the House of Representatives but is currently languishing in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means.

Over 70,000 Massachusetts student borrowers are currently in default on their student loans and are at risk of losing their professional working license as a result. Without the ability to work, students and graduates are unable to pay back their student loans or maintain stable housing and food security. It’s time to protect the ability of nurses, dentists, barbers, teachers, mechanics, social workers, architects, accountants, real estate agents and many others with a professional working license to continue working by passing this bipartisan, common sense bill (H.4339) already approved by the House Ways and Means committee months ago.

These two bills will contribute to the commonwealth’s economic growth and relief to thousands of its residents.  It should be clear to anyone that the impact of the student loan debt crisis has disproportionately affected some of the most vulnerable members of society, Black, Latinx and low-income students, families, and communities. As long as there is legislation in the books that hangs like Damocles’ sword over the head of every student loan borrower, the state is perpetuating an economic and racial injustice.

The legislature must approve the Professional License Protection and the Act To Ensuring Students’ Access to Academic Transcripts with all due haste.

Claudio Martinez is executive director of Zero Debt Massachusetts.

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