Sac State prepares for first graduation since canceling winter commencement

Costs rise due to using Golden 1 Center as venue


Emily Rabasto - The State Hornet

Graduating Sacramento State students watch themselves on a giant screen inside Golden 1 Center during the commencement procession May 18, 2018 in Sacramento, Calif.

Cory Jaynes and Kameron Schmid

After announcing last semester that it would permanently cancel winter commencement ceremonies, Sacramento State has announced that the upcoming spring commencement ceremony will be one day longer to accommodate more graduates.

The decision to cancel winter ceremonies came directly from the cost involved in renting Golden 1 Center, the only venue deemed usable for the event since the closure of Sleep Train Arena.

RELATED: Citing money concerns, Sac State pulls plug on winter commencements

University President Robert Nelsen announced via email Thursday that spring ceremonies this year will begin on Friday, May 17, and end Sunday, May 19.

Sac State currently estimates the base rental cost of the entire weekend at $205,000, with $55,000 of that being the added cost of an extra day, according to Cely Smart, Nelsen’s interim chief of staff. That added day is still cheaper than the $140,000 cost of the last winter commencement.

“The decision to add a third day is based on the number of graduates we expect to have in attendance,” Smart said. “By expanding to the third day, we are keeping the ceremonies within a reasonable time frame [no one wants to sit at a five-hour graduation] and it enabled us to maximize the number of guest tickets students will receive.”

Smart said though the cost of graduation exceeded student fees before the move to Golden 1 Center, “the decision to cancel winter commencement has been on the table for years.”

However, Smart said the final costs of the graduation are typically unknown until after ceremonies end each year.

Emily Rabasto – The State Hornet
Students attending the Spring 2018 commencement ceremony held at Golden 1 Center join Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen in a ‘Stingers up’ salute after his address on May 18, 2018.

“On top of the base rental, we also pay for catering for the folks who are working the ceremonies, stagehands who run the show, and the lighting equipment,” Smart said. “We do not know what the full scope of these costs will be until about a month after the ceremonies when we get our final bill.”

Graduates are predicted as of now to be able to claim eight guest tickets, one less than last year’s early projection of nine, before more tickets were offered in the days leading up to the ceremonies. Nelsen said students must register for graduation in March in order to participate, which was not required of last semester’s graduates.

The remaining question is how Sac State will pay for graduation in full, as the costs, though lowered this year, remain higher than the university’s allocated budget.

The current graduation fee of $76.50 that students pay is intended to pay the full cost for both the ceremonies ($48.50 per student) and the student’s diploma ($28.) However, relying on fees alone has regularly left the university with a shortfall since switching to Golden 1 Center, which is nearly three times as expensive as the average ceremony at Sleep Train Arena.

RELATED: Sac State searching for 100k to pay for first Golden 1 graduation

The issue of how to pay for the outsized cost remains, as Sac State has had to dip into reserve funds both in 2016 and 2017 to pay. Smart acknowledged the possibility remains.

“We hope to have enough in graduation fees to cover the full cost of the ceremonies, but if we do not, then we will have to determine how to pay for the overages,” Smart said.

According to Smart, the cost of graduation ceremonies had been exceeding funding for them before the move to Golden 1 Center and the decision to cancel winter commencement had been on the table for years.

Other options explored at the time of the switch were Hornet Stadium, Raley Field, the Convention Center and Memorial Auditorium.

Hornet Stadium did not offer enough seating and would have been more expensive due to additional costs needed, Nelsen said at the time. Other options all had the same issue of not enough seating.

With over 30,000 students enrolled, the number of graduates walking at any ceremony in the last few years has been high; around 5,000 on average walked in the last two spring ceremonies, and around half of that walked in the last two winter ceremonies.

Smart said that 9,800 students will be eligible to walk, based on their graduation statuses for this fall semester or the coming spring semester and summer semester. Smart added that Sac State wants to ensure a seat for every student eligible to walk, and seats for those who come to see them walk.

“This will be the first spring ceremony without a winter ceremony proceeding it, so we are being cautious with our estimations as we do not yet have an idea of how many winter graduates will come back to participate in the spring,” Smart said.

Additional reporting by Claire Morgan.