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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

Graduation bill can be a hefty one

Friday, May 12, 2006

SIKESTON -- Cory Hutcheson passed on purchasing a class ring, graduation announcements and other keepsakes to remember his college days.

"I don't believe that rings and announcements help to preserve memories at all. In my opinion, pictures preserve memories far better than anything else," said Hutcheson, a college senior who will be recognized for academic distinction in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy and Religion Saturday during Southeast Missouri State University's spring commencement.

Both Southeast Missouri State University and University of Missouri in Columbia -- two schools a majority of area residents attend -- are conducting their spring commencements this weekend.

But before graduates and their parents can celebrate, many will face one more college expense -- graduation -- just to get out of there.

From caps and gowns to memory books and picture and diploma frames, not to mention the cost of travel expenses, the graduation bill can be a pretty hefty one to pay when it's all said and done. Some schools even charge explicit graduation fees of up to $160. While the joy of the moment often means families and students happily fork over the money, graduation weekend can wallop the wallet one last time.

"I did receive a brochure advertising SEMO diploma frames from the Southeast bookstore, but I was able to find an identical frame on eBay for a quarter of the price, so I went with it instead," Hutcheson said. "I didn't purchase any other SEMO-related products because I didn't want anything." Instead Hutcheson opted for the necessities: a cap and gown, which was covered in the $35 graduation fee.

"With the graduation fee, diploma frame, cap and gown, I will spend less than $100, but if I had bought the frame from the bookstore, I could have easily spent twice as much on graduation," Hutcheson said.

It's hard to say how much Americans spend on the full range of graduation expenses -- from bric-a-brac to travel and meals -- but it's ample. Class rings seem to rebounding from an unfashionable period, and despite e-mail, written announcements are surprisingly resilient, especially in the South. The parent company of Jostens, one of the biggest sellers of rings, yearbooks and diploma frames, reported sales of $425 million last year in its scholastic business (though the company doesn't break out separate figures for high schools and colleges).

Nationwide, about half of colleges rent caps and gowns to students, while half sell them, according preliminary results of a membership survey by the North American Association of Commencement Officers. Because of the recollection and cleaning costs with rentals, prices generally end up comparable -- between $13 to $65, the group said.

At Southeast Missouri State University, the $35-graduation fee covers the cost of caps and gowns -- everything but announcements, said Julie Grueneberg, assistant registrar for graduation.

"We charge the fee primarily for the verification of graduation," Grueneberg said.

Southeast has one of the lowest graduation fees in the country, according to a very unscientific survey, Grueneberg said.

"We try really hard to keep costs low and work hard to keep the students' cost as low as can," Grueneberg said, adding Southeast has kept the same graduation fee since at least 1989, when Grueneberg began working at the university.

While caps and gowns are included in the fee, other optional graduation items like announcements, class rings and frames are offered at the campus bookstore, Grueneberg noted.

For example, general announcements come with the ceremony time, date and place card and a blank name and degree card and are 85 cents each. Personalized announcements, which include the graduate's name and degree printed inside, are $1.45 each with a minimum order of five.

Jostens announcements are also available at a heftier price for students. These announcements come on a heavy weight card stock and are sold in packs of 25. Custom graduate packages with announcements and note cards start at $67.

Embossed diploma frames from Churchill Classics offered through Southeast Bookstore are available and cost anywhere from $95 to $146 -- and that doesn't include the $15 shipping. The frames are handcrafted solid wood with a black "museum quality" matting embossed with the Southeast Dome logo, the university Web site said.

A spokesperson with the MU News Bureau in Columbia said there is no graduation fee for Mizzou graduates; however, students do have to purchase their caps, gowns and tassels, which cost about $25.

Like Southeast's bookstore, the University Bookstore also offers several graduation products including announcements and other keepsakes -- which can also add up.

Mizzou uses announcements from the company, CB Graduation, according to the bookstore's Web site. College seniors can purchase various packages including announcements, inner/outer envelopes, envelope seals, thank you notes and return address labels ranging in price from $64 to $120.

Or announcements can be purchased individually (there is a minimum order of 25 personalized announcements) for $41 and $8 for each additional five. And don't forget rings, which range in price from $200 to over $400.

Ultimately, few parents begrudge money spent on such a happy occasion.

Maria Rodriguez of San Francisco has been setting money aside for four years to pay for a trip to celebrate her daughter's upcoming graduation from Smith College in Massachusetts. She'll fly east with her husband, son, mother, brother, two sisters and assorted other relatives from the western U.S. and Mexico.

The graduation trip, plus a few days sightseeing, ''is probably going to cost us close to $10,000,'' said Rodriguez. ''But it's worth it because she's worked very very hard and I want her to feel that we're with her and that we appreciate everything that she's done,'' she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.