College graduation fees leave California graduates grumbling

by Katy Murphy, Oakland Tribune

scrimping, borrowing and sacrificing for years to pay for college,
graduating seniors are finally preparing to celebrate. But at many
California public universities, you don’t just pay to get in. You pay to
get out.

At Cal State East Bay, there’s a $49 fee to graduate. At
San Francisco State, it’s $100 — $60 more than it was two years ago.
Across the state, 15 of Cal State’s 23 campuses charge a graduation fee
— a long-standing and once-little-noticed tack-on that is raising
students’ anger. This year’s graduates have absorbed tuition fee hikes
nearly every year since they stepped foot on campus, and now they are
discovering even the diploma isn’t always included in the tab.

is a fee for everything," said Natalia Aldana, a Cal State East Bay
communications major and journalist who graduates in June. "I think it’s
really unfortunate that they have to charge students for everything
they do, including graduation."

Even before they are declared
degree-worthy, most Cal State students must pass a writing exam — with
an additional fee of up to $38. UC Berkeley graduates don’t pay a
separate fee to graduate, but commencement tickets cost $10 a head —
even for graduates themselves. At San Jose State, some students recently
learned they’d have to pay $75 to be honored in their department’s own

"We already have to pay to be here, and we’ve got to pay to leave," said Donnisha Udookon, a Cal State East Bay criminal justice and sociology major from Los Angeles.

Brown, a Cal State East Bay business management major from Antioch,
paid his school’s graduation fee — then discovered he was one class shy
of meeting his requirements and had to pay it again.

Turns out,
the fees are so obscure that even Judy Heiman, an analyst in the
Legislative Analyst’s Office who specializes in higher education, hadn’t
heard of them.

"I do wonder why they chose to do it that way," she said.

State spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp pointed to the state’s Master Plan for
Higher Education, a half-century-old law that has resulted in a
complicated system of fees. The so-called "tuition fee" can only be used
for instruction costs, he said, so campuses must find the money

And find it they do. Schools, departments and student
clubs often hold more intimate celebrations, fundraising and selling
tickets to cover the cost.

Walking the stage at San Jose State’s
Department of Health Science and Recreation graduation costs $75. The
charge includes six tickets, but it caused a minor revolt. Some of this
year’s graduates are skipping the festivities, which their classmates
are helping to organize.

"You’ve worked so hard," said Rebecca
Krueger, who was so incensed she started a blog about it. "It’s this
time of honor and celebration, and you’re hit with this fee just to
participate. You feel nickel-and-dimed."

Some leaders at San Jose
State say the university could help departments control their ceremony
costs by coordinating some of the planning. Dorothy Poole, the head of
the commencement committee, said she watched in amazement last year as
rental companies set up the chairs for one department’s event, took them
down and then did it all over again for a different department 24 hours

Costs should be low enough that even the most
cash-strapped, debt-laden students can celebrate with their classmates,
Krueger said.

Students who have long complained about extra
charges say that by the time they reach graduation, they almost come to
expect an add-on fee at every turn. Now that a degree is within reach,
many just shrug at that last charge — or what they think is their last

"It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Brown said, before putting
on his gown and posing for graduation photos — that don’t come free,
either. "In the long run, it’s OK."


Undergraduates pay extra to graduate at 15 Cal State University campuses
— in most cases, whether or not they take part in the commencement
ceremony. Other campuses, including the UCs, roll the cost of
commencement into other fees.

Graduation fees
Cal State East Bay: $49
Fresno State: $35
Cal State Monterey Bay: $40
Sacramento State: $63.50
San Diego State: $55
San Francisco State: $100
Commencement dates
Cal State East Bay (undergraduate): Saturday, June 15
Cal State Monterey Bay: Saturday, May 18
Mills College: Saturday, May 18
San Francisco State: Saturday, May 25
San Jose State: Saturday, May 25
Santa Clara University (undergraduate): Saturday, June 15
Saint Mary’s College (undergraduate): Saturday, May 25
Stanford University: Sunday, June 16
UC Berkeley: Saturday, May 18
UC Santa Cruz: June 14-16

Source: Campus websites