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Commencement ceremonies can mean financial stress for some students

Class of Spring 2021 Commencement at Cuyahoga Community College
The DarkRoom Co.
Cuyahoga Community College
Cuyahoga Community College students at their commencement ceremony in Spring of 2021. The white stole, provided for free at the ceremony to students who want it, is a Tri-C tradition. It's called the Stole of Gratitude. At the end of the ceremony, students place it around the neck of someone who provided extraordinary support, whether financial or advisory.

The commencement tradition of cap and gown dates back to the 1800’s.

While the Intercollegiate Registry of Academic Costume aimed to set an equal standard for the regalia to demonstrate academic achievement, not everyone can afford to pay for a gown they will only wear once.

For undergrads, the cost can approach 100 dollars. Graduate and Doctoral regalia can run even more. But some schools are trying to remove this barrier.

Chavila Witt is a Director of Student Engagement at Cuyahoga Community College. She says most students are willing to pay the cost of $44.95 for cap and gown, but if money is an issue, her office will help.

Chavila Witt
The Student Engagement office at Tri-C can help.

“Graduation is such an important part of the student experience. It’s kind of the point of coming to school. So, we want to support our students in being able to enjoy that celebration and partake in it. So, we certainly make every effort to make that happen.”

Witt says their bookstore staff is also present at the ceremony to hand out regalia to anyone who needs it. Students who show up without any regalia or incomplete regalia will still be allowed to walk across the stage.

Kent State University also says it helps students who contact the Office of University Events and Protocol and can demonstrate financial need. The school also relies on faculty and staff to identify those students.

New Kent State graduates smile after their commencement ceremony - summer 2021
Kent State University
New Kent State graduates smile after their commencement ceremony - summer 2021

Neither of these schools charge students an additional fee for submitting their graduation application.

Youngstown State University charges all students at all degree levels a single application fee which includes a basic cap and gown set. Customization, at additional cost, is available through its bookstore, including the Master's hood and the Doctoral hood and tam.

Cleveland State University charges a feefor submitting a graduation application, but students can purchase their regalia on their own terms. The school also offers financial assistance to students through its CARE program. Recent graduates often donate their regalia back to the school for future students in need.

The University of Akron did not respond to a request for comment.

Updated: May 18, 2022 at 3:56 PM EDT
The story has been updated.
Jay Shah was an associate producer for the “Sound of Ideas” until May 2024.