Want to participate in your graduation from an Arizona university? It will cost you
Arizona university students already pay many tens of thousands of dollars to get their degrees. But to graduate, they have to fork over even more.
The graduation application costs more than $50. A cap and gown is at least $60. And that’s just for the basics.
For cash-strapped students, the extra costs as they leave college can seem like an insult.
“You have to pay money to get a degree you’ve been paying for this whole time. It’s absurdity. It’s infuriating,” said Triston McLean, a student at the University of Arizona who will graduate in May with an electrical engineering degree.
Many colleges across the country charge a graduation fee and require students to purchase the associated commencement regalia, if they decide to walk in the ceremony.
The money typically goes toward administrative costs, commencement ceremonies and diploma printing.
The fee and costs for regalia aren't new — they've been in place for decades. But as tuition and fees have increased over the years, the graduation costs press students for more cash just before they have to start paying back their loans.
What Arizona schools charge
Arizona State University charges $50 for its graduation application fee, with added costs for additional degrees or late applications. ASU spokesman Bret Hovell said the fee includes a diploma, diploma case and the cost of producing commencement ceremonies.
UA also charges $50 per degree for its application fee, which covers administrative costs for checking that students meet degree requirements, UA spokeswoman Pam Scott said in an email.
Northern Arizona University charges $35 to apply for graduation for each degree or certificate a student is seeking. On its website, NAU says the $35 fee can’t be refunded if a student withdraws their application or is denied.
“Please note that the graduation fee WILL NOT be waived due to low income status or other circumstances,” the NAU website says.
NAU spokeswoman Kimberly Ott said the cost covers the commencement ceremony, the degree-awarding process, and the printing and mailing of diplomas.
At Arizona State University’s graduation fair last week, students waited in line to order caps, gowns, tassels, stoles, diploma frames, class t-shirts. Some called their parents to ask for money.
Graduation packages can run more than $400 for the top-level doctoral option. For a standard cap, gown and tassel option, undergraduate students will pay more than $60.
The most popular graduation option at UA is a $65 bundle that includes a cap, gown and tassel.
The bundle also includes a $15 membership to the UA Alumni Association and a $5 tax-deductible donation to the university, Scott said, though students can opt out of the alumni membership and donation.
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Do schools get money from sales?
Hovell said in an email that ASU doesn’t get any money when students buy their caps and gowns from the bookstore — the money all goes to an outside vendor.
UA gets 20 percent of the cap and gown sales, Scott said. The standard cap and gown package brought in about $200,000 in revenue at UA last year, 20 percent of which went to the university to support commencement and student programs, she said.
Ott said the NAU bookstore “adds an overhead” on the caps and gowns purchased through the school’s vendor, some of which goes to the bookstore and some to the overall university, though she did not provide details on what margin the school or bookstore gets.
The money is used to pay for staffing and support for selling the caps and gowns, she said.
On average, ASU undergraduates who took out loans to attend school graduated with more than $24,000 in debt in the 2016-17 school year, according to the Arizona Board of Regents. For graduate students, it was more than $47,000.
At NAU, resident undergraduate students on average graduated with nearly $23,000 in debt, while graduate students had more than $38,000 in debt.
UA undergraduates who took on debt graduated with nearly $25,000 in debt, and graduate students had more than $62,000 in debt at graduation.
Students find workarounds
Kira Assad, a soon-to-be master’s graduate at ASU, said she chose a package that cost about $270 because it included everything she needed, from the graduation attire to announcements she can send to family and friends.
“It definitely is expensive, but I guess it’s like the last little hoorah of expense before you graduate, and then you hope you get a job after,” Assad said.
Some students forgo the official cap-and-gown purchase entirely and opt to borrow from friends or search at thrift stores to save money.
A thread on the social media platform reddit’s page for ASU created a place for students to exchange or resell their cap and gowns.
Since gowns are sized by height, posters on reddit listed their height, gender and what size they were looking for. Some former graduates offered their gowns up for cheaper than the bookstore prices.
“6'0" business student looking for a gown and the stole. If anyone could help out, that would be great! Thank you!” one poster wrote.
'Awesome' events are expensive to produce
Commencement ceremonies are important milestones, and ASU does everything possible to make the events memorable and professional, Hovell said.
“They require the managing of tens of thousands of visitors, staging, video screens, extra security, fireworks etc., etc. It’s pretty awesome, and it should be. Graduating from college is an amazing achievement, and we want to mark it as such,” Hovell said.
ASU has a program for low-income students who need help getting caps and gowns, but Hovell could not provide details on the program or how students can access it.
UA students could rent caps and gowns from outside groups, but Scott said those routinely cost more than the university charges to purchase them. Students who can’t afford the regalia can ask their department if there are loaners available from previous graduates, she said.
“We are very conscious of the costs and expenses associated with graduation. Whether it’s with their colleges or through their purchases, students have options to help keep expenses to a minimum and we make a concerted effort to give our graduating students added value wherever possible,” Scott said.
Graduates were asked to finish this question, "I want to get a job as a ..." Michael Chow/azcentral.com
Some students surprised by the costs
For students winding down their final semesters, the costs can be surprising.
Lisa Lavergne, who will graduate in May with an economics degree from ASU, said she didn’t know there was a fee to apply for graduation. Her parents are helping pay for the cap and gown, she said, otherwise she wouldn’t be able to afford the unexpected cost.
“It’s ridiculous, but I guess you have to (pay) if you want the experience,” Lavergne said.
Mahleej Zara and Sarah Melosh, who will soon graduate with degrees in interdisciplinary studies at ASU, said they thought about borrowing caps and gowns from friends, but their friends had already given them to others by the time they asked.
Zara said it would be nice to have an option to rent the gown, then return it later since it’s only used one time. But her parents help out with everything, and the graduation costs are no different, she said.
“If they didn’t I’d be even more upset because it’d be, like, my money,” Zara said.
Melosh, on the other hand, paid for the graduationcap, gown and tassel herself. She said she knew it would cost some money to get the graduation gear, but the price, more than $60, was higher than she expected.
“This is straight up my money, and I’m like, all right, I guess I just won’t eat tomorrow, it’s fine,” Melosh said.
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