Sacramento State’s final bill for graduation at the new Golden 1 Center was $11,000 more than the school estimated in March, for a total of $151,643.
The six ceremonies held May 19-20 cost nearly $92,000 more than the $59,842 that Sacramento State paid for last year’s graduation at Sleep Train Arena. According to a June 15 bill for the Sacramento State graduation, the Golden 1 Center charged:
- $99,590 for staff
- $39,532 for catering
- $5,544 for stagehands
- $4,800 for lighting
- $1,176 for ramp rental
- $1,000 for merchandise
Sacramento State is bucking the trend of many public universities, which have scaled back graduation ceremonies as states reduce funding, said Judith Wilde, a professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Virginia.
“Universities are trying to cut back, particularly because they are using taxpayers’ money,” she said.
Sacramento State spokeswoman Elisa Smith said the university increased its estimated cost from $140,000 in March to $170,000 before the May graduation. She said the university spent $20,000 less than the final estimate.
The school would have paid $50,000 more if the city of Sacramento hadn’t donated three of the nine free days it can hold civic events at Golden 1 Center.
Smith said Sacramento State officials explored other options, but Golden 1 was the best choice for students. It would have cost $217,000 in labor and maintenance, as well as to rent portable toilets, to host graduation at Hornet Stadium on the Sacramento State campus, Smith said in March.
Sacramento State originally estimated that it would spend $96,500 for the spring commencement ceremonies for its 5,300 graduating seniors. The balance of the funds needed to pay for graduation will come from the university’s reserves, Smith said.
“Universities, public in particular, want graduation to be something special, not just so the students remember it but because they are starting to court them as potential donors,” Wilde said. “They want to make sure it will be something nice for that standpoint.”
Wilde said her Schar School of Policy and Government cut costs this spring by holding a scaled back “degree celebration” instead of a convocation.
George Mason revamped its graduation approach this year by focusing more on one big commencement for the entire university. University spokesman Michael Sandler said George Mason overall did not save money by making the change and was motivated by a desire to increase attendance at the university-wide commencement.
Editor’s note (June 30): A previous version of this story included comments from Judith Wilde that she has clarified. Wilde, professor and chief operations officer for the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, initially said the university eliminated individual graduation ceremonies to save money. After a university spokesman denied that Friday, Wilde clarified that while the change to "degree celebrations" saved money at the Schar School, she had not verified broader university savings.