The high cost of graduation ceremonies
Reports suggest that students find graduation ceremonies an expensive affair. Source: Shutterstock

It takes several years of persistent hard work before university students can proudly attend their graduation ceremonies to receive their coveted scrolls.

However, the occasion has proven to be bittersweet for many, with students lamenting the high costs of they’re forced to fork out for the ceremony.

A BBC report noted that Scottish graduates pay up to £225 (US$288) to take part in their graduation ceremonies – a hefty amount, especially for those who come from less privileged backgrounds. There are also universities that charge students to graduate, even if they do not take part in the ceremony or graduate in absentia.

NUS Scotland President, Liam McCabe, said on tes that some colleges are also following this practice.

“Graduation fees, masquerading as ‘registration fees’ or mandatory ‘alumni association’ fees, are demanded before students can participate,” he said.

“For college students, many of whom are in further education and looking to build a better life for themselves and their dependents, institutions risk souring their education by making them shell out to celebrate one of their greatest accomplishments.”

Meanwhile, there are numerous other expenses to account for, including graduation gown rentals, official graduation photos, guest tickets and the cost of families travelling to attend, which can make it a pricey affair for both students and their families.

Apart from mandatory graduation fees, McCabe added that many institutions require students to hire robes from external companies, with some institutions receiving a commission on each hire, which might explain why some institutions have made robes mandatory for graduates attending the ceremony.

An expensive rite of passage?

Complaints about the high costs of graduation ceremonies is nothing new and appear to be prevalent in other countries, too.

Speaking to The Guardian, Stephen McGrath, a Birmingham City graduate, said he did not attend his graduation as he could not afford to hire a gown.

“It’s absurd when a student pays so much in tuition fees, to then be charged at the end to receive their degree,” he said.

“Universities should provide gowns. Essentially it’s just a black cape, so it shouldn’t cost 40 quid – that’s a stress at the end of term with people typically worrying about overdrafts and their future employment.”

The situation is similar in the US, where institutions charge a graduation fee and make it mandatory for students to buy or rent commencement regalia for walking in the ceremony.

azcentral reported that Arizona university students have to cough up over $50 (£39) for graduation application costs, while a cap and gown is at least US$60 (£47), without including other costs.

This can be challenging for financially-strapped students.

“You have to pay money to get a degree you’ve been paying for this whole time. It’s absurdity. It’s infuriating,” Triston McLean told azcentral, who, at the time, was a student at the University of Arizona, just about to graduate.

Meanwhile, last year, students at the Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology (APIIT), a private university in Malaysia, launched a petition demanding that officials explain the high fee of RM820 (£157), which included an RM300 refundable deposit, for its on-campus convocation ceremony.

Says reported that students were upset as the reduction in fees were negligible from previous years despite the change of venue from a hotel to on-campus, while the petition also highlighted cheaper on-campus convocation costs at other local institutions for comparison.

But some institutions are lightening the burden for soon-to-be graduates, choosing not making it mandatory for them to wear gowns during the ceremony.

On their website, Kingston University London notes that: “We encourage everyone to wear ‘academic dress’ (gown, hood and hat) at their graduation ceremony. And no, it’s not compulsory, but most graduates dress up on the day.”

Hopefully, more institutions will reflect on their practices to see how they can lower graduation costs and help economically-disadvantaged students on a day that’s meant to celebrate a milestone in their lives.

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