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Cal State students face yet another fee – for graduation

A group of athletes run past Mary Park Hall at San Francisco State University.
(Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times)

Before many Cal State seniors walk across the stage to receive a diploma in coming weeks, they will have to break out their wallet at least once more.

More than half of Cal State universities charge a commencement fee — a requirement to graduate.

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At San Diego State, students must fork over $55 before they don the cap and gown. At San Francisco State, it takes $100 to walk across the stage before thousands of spectators.

Fifteen of Cal State’s 23 campuses charge some sort of graduation fee, according to the Oakland Tribune, which first reported on the charges Monday.

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The long-existing fees are angering students, who have attended the system in an era of deep funding cuts and skyrocketing tuition and fees.

In the last 10 years, student fees have increased 167%. The Cal State system has faced nearly $1 billion in state funding cuts since 2008. Classes have been reduced and enrollment has been frozen across the system.

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San Francisco State mathematics major Danielle Karta, 19, learned of the $100 charge at her campus from her roommate, who is graduating.

“You get stuck paying $100 after paying so much in tuition and fees to even get to that point,” she said. “They milk you for your last nickel and dime.”

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By the time Karta graduates, in 2015, she will owe about $40,000 in student loan debt. “It’s horrible,” she said.

Cal State spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said that under the California Master Plan for Higher Education, tuition dollars can be used solely for instruction. As a result, universities charge students a variety of fees to pay for other costs. There are dozens — ranging from paying for campus health facilities to orientation — and most are set by individual campuses and must be approved by the chancellor’s office.

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The graduation fees are typically used to offset the cost of the ceremony and to produce diplomas, Uhlenkamp said.

At San Francisco State, the $100 goes toward printing, covering and mailing student diplomas, as well as the cost of converting the school’s soccer stadium into a graduation venue, spokeswoman Ellen Griffin said.

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At San Diego State, more than half of the $55 commencement fee is used to pay for storing and filing student records after graduation, spokeswoman Natalia Van Stralen said.

Andrew Winthrop, 22, who is studying physiology at San Francisco State and will graduate next year, said he understands that ceremonies and diplomas need to be paid for, but after thousands upon thousands of dollars paid already, having to pay yet another fee is more than bothersome.

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“It seems a little silly to ask for another $100 just to let us walk,” he said.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com


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