Where is the money going? A question of graduation fees

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Story by Destinee Marking, Staff writer 

As seniors have been applying for graduation, the fees associated with commencement have left many students wondering what their money is going toward.

Elizabeth McLeod, senior from Henderson, Kentucky, is graduating in December and had to pay her application fee last semester by April 1.

McLeod said she was not happy finding out she also had to pay to apply to graduate, since she has been paying tuition for the past couple years.

“I’ve put a lot of money into these past few years, and to find out I had to pay a $50 application fee was a little ridiculous,” McLeod said. “I felt like I paid for someone to tell me I could graduate in December.”

Since the application fee does not include graduation apparel, McLeod said it would have been helpful if she could have used the money toward the $40 apparel bundle the bookstore sells instead.

Johnna Humphrey, senior from Calhoun, Kentucky, will graduate in May, so her fee was due Nov. 1.

Like McLeod, Humphrey said she was “shocked and disappointed” when she became aware of the fee she had to pay prior to graduating.

“I will be completing my degree in three years,” Humphrey said. “I’ve taken classes both summers and done 17-18 hours each semester to get to where I am. I was so excited and smiling as I was applying and then it came to the “fee.” I immediately lost that excitement and smile as I paid the $50.”

When seniors apply to graduate, they must pay a $50 application fee.

Tracy Roberts, registrar, said this fee covers a multitude of costs. It goes toward printing and putting together diplomas in-house, postage, replacing damaged diplomas, transcripts, graduation summaries, staffing the commencement ceremony and ticket processing.

“Our office only gets a small portion of the fee,” Roberts said. “The rest of it goes toward operating expenses for the university and to help cover people’s salaries and things like that.”

Roberts said graduation apparel is not included in the application fee partly because students choose not to buy new apparel, and additionally, walking at graduation is not required.

Wendy Longworth, assistant registrar of graduation, said there are late fees and consequences when students do not pay the application fee.

If students do not apply by the designated deadlines, Longworth said the late fee charge is $20.

There are instances when students cannot afford to pay the application fee, and Longworth said the office cannot bill the fee to student accounts, so it can be worked out where students get their degree, but face other repercussions.

“What we can do, in extreme circumstances, we have accepted a paper application, but we put a fee on it,” Longworth said. “We put a hold on their account that shows they owe the money, but that hold keeps them from registering, it keeps them from getting a transcript or from getting their diploma.”

Longworth said she and Roberts get a fair amount of questions regarding why an application fee exists and what it goes toward.

“Sometimes students don’t realize how much we do behind the scenes,” Longworth said.

Some of these tasks, Longworth said are answering phone calls, emails and preparing for commencement. She also said a notable amount of time goes into making sure every student is on track to graduate once they have applied to do so.

Longworth said multiple hours are spent on each student making sure any issues that may prohibit them from graduating are worked out.

“Our ultimate goal is to make everyone a graduate from Murray State,” Longworth said.