Colleges in New York can no longer withhold students' transcripts or charge them higher fees to obtain a copy of their transcript if they have unpaid debts.

The bill signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday will remove a barrier to help people continue their education or secure employment instead of penalizing students with less money.

"Transcripts are critical for students to continue pursuing their educational and career goals," Hochul said in a statement. "To hold transcripts hostage until outstanding debts are paid is an unfair, predatory practice that prevents our students from reaching their full potential. I was proud to make ending transcript withholding a top priority and took action to end this practice at SUNY and CUNY in January. Today, we put an end to this abhorrent policy for all higher education institutions to ensure a level playing field for New York's students."

Some colleges and universities in the state withhold or overcharge for student transcripts as a tool for leverage for debts to be paid. Proponents of the law argue the two are unrelated, and withholding transcripts prevents people from advancing their education or employment and to make their outstanding payments.

"Transcripts are a record of a students' education — they are not and were never meant to be tools for debt collection," state Sen. Kevin Thomas said. "Transcript withholding is a disruptive, counter-productive and harmful practice that prevents students from being able to transfer credits, re-enroll in school to finish their degrees, or obtain jobs that could help them pay their balances. Each withheld transcript represents a student who was denied the opportunity to pursue a chosen career path, denied access to social and economic mobility through higher education, and ultimately denied access to the American Dream. I thank Governor Hochul for signing this important legislation to stop the practice of transcript withholding and empower students across New York state."

Members of the SUNY and CUNY boards voted to end withholding or overcharging for transcripts in January.

"Today's a great moment for students in New York. No longer will students be punished as they try to advance in their academic and professional careers," Assemblymember Harvey Epstein said. "Removing the barrier of transcript withholding will help get students into the next step in their lives, while they work to meet their obligations to their schools. I'm proud to have worked with Senator Kevin Thomas, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, Deborah Glick, and many higher education advocates to pass this legislation. I want to thank the governor for standing up for students by signing our bill."