MSUM Implements Graduation Fee

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BY PAIGE ANDERSON paige.anderson@go.mnstate.edu

The Dragon Digest announcement of the implementation of graduation fees guided students to contact the registrar’s office with questions. When The Advocate stopped by the registrar’s office, it was directed to Associate Registrar Shawn Soderberg. However, Soderberg said he didn’t know any more than what was in the Dragon Digest email.

Soderberg directed The Advocate to Vice President of Academic Affairs Arrick Jackson. Jackson’s office staff referred The Advocate back to the registrar’s office to talk to Registrar Heather Soleim. While awaiting an email response from Soleim, The Advocate received an email from Jackson’s assistant, directing The Advocate to a meeting Monday with Jackson, “to bring this full circle.”

Jackson said the original proposal to the cabinet and Student Senate had actually been approved back in 2017. Due to the change in leadership in both the department of Academic Affairs and Student Senate, the implementation of the graduation fee was put to a back seat.

Heather Soliem in the Registrar’s office was in charge of the fee. Jackson said she is going through normal communication channels to get the fee to where it needs to be.

He also said that the major question Student Senate had about the fee was why we need it now. While MSUM has previously always footed the entire bill for commencement, with enrollment numbers down and a decrease in state funding that’s just not possible anymore.

Jackson made it clear that the fee follows state regulations and policies, even though it is the first time MSUM has had this type of fee.

The fee is still in the implementation phase, and they are still in the process of “leveraging technology.” The plan is to add information to the registrar’s office’s FAQ page to help with the confusion.

While the article in Dragon Digest was titled “Graduation application fee,” it isn’t actually a fee to graduate. Jackson explained that it’s only for students who participate in commencement. When students fill out their name pronunciation card online, the fee will then be applied to their student bill.

Jackson said the purpose of the fee is to help with the cost of commencement. The fee is allocated toward the cost of diplomas, diploma covers, postage for mailing the diplomas, the ceremony and printing the programs.

The fee will not be helping with any additional costs of commencement. It will have no effect on how MSUM pays for extra staff required to hold the ceremony. It also will have no effect on the price of the caps and gowns, or videos and photos students have the option to purchase.

Jackson stated that it’s “not out of the norm” to have this fee. MSUM decided on a $30 fee, whereas Minnesota State University Mankato has a $25 fee and the University of Wisconsin has a $100 fee.

MSUM holds three commencement ceremonies each year, at the end of fall, summer and spring semesters. Annually, the cost for all three ceremonies totals about $42,000.

The spring 2020 commencement ceremony is expected to have approximately 800 students participate. That would equal about $24,000, which is a little over half of the cost of all three ceremonies combined.

The goal is to see if the fee will cover the cost of commencement, or what portion of it will be covered. Jackson said there is a potential for the fee to rise, dependent on the numbers they receive.

Jackson said the “internal process is working,” but they need to test it. The fee is starting now for spring 2020 graduates and will be reevaluated in fall 2020 by Student Senate.

Despite the confusion while trying to set up the interview, students should still direct their questions to the Registrar’s office.

The Advocate then met with Student Body President William Hagen.

Hagen said that Student Senate had questions about why the fee was being implemented now. Hagen said that President Anne Blackhurst was unsure of why this fee—that was approved in 2017—hadn’t been assessed that same year, saying it “slipped under the radar.”

“Especially with a process like this, miscommunication was the reason the fee wasn’t assessed originally, so it’s important that everyone was in the loop on this,” Hagen said.

Student Senate also had the concern of ensuring that only students participating in the ceremony would have to pay the fee. They don’t believe that students who only need their diploma mailed should have to pay the same fee as those participating in the ceremony.

Hagen said that the revenue from the graduation fee required for students who will be walking is “going to be less than the cost of the graduation ceremonies themselves.”

Hagen ensured that MSUM is not trying to make a profit off of the new fee, which is something Student Senate would have raised concerns about. The goal is to simply “alleviate some of the burden on the general tuition fund.”

“Overall, I think it’s an important thing that we make sure we are able to have this ceremony. If we don’t have the money to go through (with) the ceremony, either we’re going to be pulling from other areas, or they’re going to decide not to have it,” he said.

Hagen will graduate in the spring 2020 semester, and he understands the fee. He is excited to have his friends and family watch him walk across the stage and receive his diploma. If that means paying $30, then so be it.

Administration is aware that $30 could be too much of a financial burden for students to handle. Hagen said that by going through the Dean of Students office, students can use emergency funds to help pay the fee.

“Any student, regardless of financial situation, will be able to walk,” Hagen said.

Student Senate is also planning a strong PR outreach. They plan to have it out before next semester when the fee starts. This outreach will inform students on why the fee is happening and how it will be used.

Hagen said he doesn’t foresee any future problems with the fee. He said hopefully the nomenclature will change and help alleviate some confusion.

Overall, most issues from the fee seem to have been from miscommunication within administration.

Hagen recommends reaching out to Student Senate with any questions regarding the fee.

“If anyone has questions, they can reach out to studentsenate@mnstate.edu which is our email, and we’ve been answering questions on that. You can (also) reach out to the administrators if you have any questions. Student Senate is the representative body, so it’s our job to make sure you all know what’s going on with that.”

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