Ball State challenges ruling on releasing transcripts to students with unpaid tuition

MUNCIE, Ind. - Ball State University is asking the Indiana Supreme Court to hear its challenge of a court ruling that would require it to release transcripts of students who leave the school with unpaid tuition.

A Lake County judge last year ordered the university to release the official transcript in the case of a student who enrolled in 2011 but withdrew the following spring. The Indiana Court of Appeals dismissed Ball State's appeal in the case of Jordan Irons.

Ball State's policy calls for withholding official college transcripts until debts are paid in full. Spokeswoman Joan Todd told The Star Press that unpaid tuition and fee billing totaled $9.5 million for fiscal year 2012-2013. The university wrote off nearly $780,000 in tuition and fees that year, she said.

Ball State leaves accounts open and continues to try to collect unpaid amounts for five years before writing off any amount, Todd said.

"Our view is the university has a common-law lien on a transcript for services provided," said Jim Williams, an attorney representing Ball State. "The analogy is if you took your car in to get it fixed. The mechanic has a lien on the car until the bill is paid. Technically, the mechanic can withhold the car until the bill is paid."

In the Irons case, Ball State contends the Crown Point student's unpaid debt is part of a divorce dispute.

"Long story short, this is a squabble between a mom and a dad over their adult child's higher education expenses," Williams said. "We don't want to ... be drug into divorce disputes because it's expensive, inconvenient and creates all kinds of problems. Really, the dad owes the money, but he is not paying."

Irons says she can't enroll at Indiana University Northwest without her official Ball State transcript.

"Jordan is stuck in limbo," Lake County Circuit Court Judge George Paras wrote in his ruling siding with Irons. "Likewise, this situation leaves the court in a quandary since future college expenses cannot be completely determined until Jordan enrolls at a specific institution. Whether it be IUN or some other institution, the court, not having a crystal ball, needs to know the amount of college expense expected so the court may factor that information into a decision regarding, amongst other factors, the parties' ability to contribute."

Paras said the Indiana General Assembly hasn't passed legislation allowing universities to withhold transcripts over unpaid tuition.

"The Legislature's silence on this subject suggests that our Legislature has chosen not to bestow a state university with this sort of remedy," he wrote. "If the (Legislature) wanted to grant BSU a lien on their transcript, it could."

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