Can a Private High School Withhold a Transcript for Money Owed?


It has happened to more than one family in an economic downturn: a parent loses his or her job, and suddenly all plans for the children’s education future are thrown into chaos. If children are attending private school, unpaid tuition bills may lead the school to withhold a student’s transcripts, even after the student has left the school and is preparing for college.

It’s Legal

  • Unfortunately, if a parent signed a contract agreeing that a school could withhold transcripts in the event of unpaid tuition, even the unpaid tuition of the younger sibling of a student who is paid up and headed for college, it is legal for the school to withhold all transcripts stipulated in the contract. Courts look at the contract as a binding agreement between a service provider (the school) and a customer (the students’ parents). Parents rarely read the fine print on private school contracts or believe that they will not get into this situation. Private schools are afraid to make special exceptions for families because they fear being overwhelmed with demands for free schooling.

Steps to Take

  • There are only two steps you can take in this situation. The first is to set up a payment plan with the school in which you pay off your debt in smaller, more manageable amounts over a longer period of time. If you have a college-bound child, he or she may have to wait a year or two for the transcript to be available before applying to college. The second option is to seek a lawyer to review the contract that you signed and argue your case on your behalf. If you’re in financial duress, this may not be an option due to the expense.

Fueling the Trend

  • The incidence of parents being unable to pay private school tuition has gone up significantly in recent years. This has been driven largely by a surge in tuition meant to compensate for families abandoning private schools in favor of charter schools or traditional public schools. Even Catholic schools, which have long served low-income families, have had to raise tuition, in part because they no longer have a steady stream of priests and nuns to serve as cheap labor. Turbulence in the economy has also played a role.

Peter’s Story

  • Peter Durek, who finished high school in 1994, was unable to obtain his full transcripts because his father could not pay all of the tuition at the all-boys Catholic school he attended for the first two years of high school. As a result, the public school where he spent his junior and senior years would not formally graduate him, and he could not apply for college until he passed the GED. He did so a decade later, at the age of 28, after working in computer support as a manager. He had reached a point in his career when his lack of college degree was a liability; but he found attending college as a financially independent adult strenuous and had to drop out on two different occasions.


  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/ Images
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