The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Questions about $40 graduation fee left unanswered

Justin Montgomery graduated from SMU in December 2006 with a degree in accounting, and had to pay $40 for his diploma. He is scheduled to graduate in May with a master’s degree in accounting. Once again, he will have to pay $40 to SMU for his diploma. Montgomery believes the graduation fees in addition to his self-paid tuition are unnecessary ways SMU makes a little extra cash.

“They are trapping us at the very end. We get nothing to show for our time at SMU unless we shell out another $40,” said Montgomery, who will start a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers in the fall.

Montgomery is not alone. SMU began charging students a $40 graduation fee per school in December 2006. Students are frustrated that they are charged more money when tuition is already high and that SMU officials will not explain for what the money is used.

“That’s a lot of money to get out of this school considering we have to pay a lot to go here,” said Lauren Early, a junior psychology and education major who does not look forward to paying the fee.

According to the SMU registrar’s office, 1,095 undergraduate students graduated in 2007. At $40 per student, the graduation fee generated a minimum of $43,800 in revenues for SMU.

Officials in the registrar’s office, which is in charge of the graduation process, declined an interview to discuss the graduation fee. Students who have dealt with the registrar’s office in the past have unanswered questions.

“I understand that it’s not necessarily their [the registrars office] decision. It’s an overall SMU decision,” said Patty Blount, a senior psychology and statistics major. “But they still need to be up front with you and tell you where your money is going especially if you’re asking and are interested in finding out more about your school.”

Over the past five years, the SMU Board of Trustees has increased the cost of tuition and fees by 35 percent, and the board will increase tuition again in 2008-2009 by 7.4 percent. The average 2008 graduate from SMU will have paid $111,748 in tuition and fees.

“It’s a little disappointing that this charge is around, but I understand if it is legitimate. There is enough money on this campus that we should not have to jump through hoops anymore,” said graduating senior Micah Nerio, the student representative to the finance committee on the Board of Trustees.

The SMU Student Senate unanimously approved a piece of legislation in 2007 that “demanded the university cease charging undergraduate students for graduating.” Nothing has been done since the bill passed.

Author Ben Hatch, who graduated last spring, wrote the bill because he was outraged at SMU for charging additional fees and being secretive about the charge.

“They told me that the fee went to processing costs, which I had to wonder where the money financing that processing had come from previously,” said Hatch.

Many administrators on the SMU campus, including the academic advisors, don’t know where the additional money goes.

“I don’t know how much it [the fee] is. I don’t know how many [fees] you have to pay. I’m sorry,” said interim director of pre-engineering advising Betsy Willis.

The official SMU May Commencement Web site makes no reference to the fee and only a few departments at SMU tell students about the fee when they complete their application for candidacy to graduate.

According to the student graduation contract, students who do not pay the fee have their diplomas withheld until it is paid for. But most students are unaware that the graduation fee exists until it shows up on their access accounts a few weeks before graduation.

“Nobody told me about it. When I found out I had a hold on my account, I walked over to Laura Lee to pay the fee, but they didn’t take Visa. So I walked back to Hughes-Trigg, paid a transfer fee with Bank of America’s ATM, and finally got it taken care of,” said Montgomery with exasperation.

Other four-year private universities in Texas, including Rice and Baylor, do not have a fee associated with graduation. TCU has a $55 fee, but it includes a cap and gown rental. Of 15 private universities, with comparable tuition rates, only SMU, TCU and Pepperdine charge a graduation fee.

The graduation ceremony, while not required, can remove more money from students’ pockets. A cap and gown rental from the SMU bookstore is $31 and the basic announcements package is $85. In addition, the senior class is asked to make a donation of $20 to the cause of their choice at SMU.

“You go through a big long process and then they stick you with a fee and don’t let you leave until you pay it. And they have already started calling me for donations,” said Montgomery.

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