Graduation Day is nearly here. Parents and families across Alabama have dreamed of this day. Years and years and years of hard work and perseverance will be on display as your child walks across a stage to receive that high school diploma.
Have you paid your fees yet?
Because if you want your child to walk across the stage to accept a diploma during your high school’s graduation ceremonies, it’s going to cost you.
Just for the cap and gown.
Without that cap and gown, your child can’t participate in high school graduation ceremonies.
And if you don’t use your high school’s designated photographer for senior portraits, your child’s portrait won’t appear in the yearbook.
That costs money, too.
Those are only two of the costs associated with graduating from an Alabama high school.
The cost for these mementos and activities can add up to more than $500 in a senior’s final year of high school.
And with the huge push for all students to graduate from high school, these are guaranteed customers for those companies in the graduation supply business.
Of course, folks will tell you that most of these costs are optional, but are they really?
How Much for That Cap and Gown??
That depends on the school. And the state, apparently.
The going rate for a cap and gown in Alabama appears to be somewhere around $80.
An online search for the cost of caps and gown revealed wide variations across the country. Scroll down for a sampling of prices across the country.
These are dollars coming out of Alabama’s families’ pockets, and those amounts differ greatly from one school to the next with no clear reason why.
Who Sells Those Caps and Gowns?
After reviewing numerous Alabama high school web sites, I determined that every high school (where information on caps and gowns could be located) requires students to actually purchase a cap and gown for the actual graduation ceremony.
[Whatever happened to wearing the gown for an evening and turning it back in after the ceremony?]
And every high school (where information on caps and gowns could be located) directs students to an outside supplier to order that cap and gown.
That outside supplier (usually one of the big three: Balfour, Herff-Jones, and Jostens) collects the fee and delivers the cap and gown to the school.
The money for the cap and gown apparently does not go through the school’s bookkeeping process. It stays in the hands of the graduation suppliers.
The Ethics Complaint Against Hoover High’s Principal
These costs caught the attention of one parent in Hoover recently, and reading through that parent’s ethics complaint against Hoover High School’s principal, filed in November 2014, shed a bit more light on business practices where caps and gowns are concerned.
In the complaint, the parent (himself a former graduation supply representative) claims that while the supplier charges $80 for graduation supplies (cap, gown, diploma cover and tassel), the actual cost to the supplier is only $24.75.
That leaves a profit for the supplier of $55.25 per student.
With more than 650 seniors enrolled at Hoover High, the cap and gown supplier will make nearly $36,000 in profit. From one high school.
Yet schools are allegedly allowing a private company to take that much profit from students’ families.
With nearly 50,000 students enrolled in grade 12 throughout the state, if that margin held true across the state, the profit approaches $2.8 million just for graduation supplies.
That would buy a lot of textbooks.
In the ethics complaint, the parent further alleges that the graduation supply company “kicks back” some of that profit to the high school in the form of a donation to the school.
So let me get this straight.
The high school requires purchase of graduation supplies. An outside company handles all of the transactions. Some part of the profit is kicked back to the school. Does the company gets a tax write-off, funded by the high school seniors in the school? And does the money winds up back in the school, not earmarked for anything in particular?
Does this just amount to a fee at worst, and a fundraiser at best, paid by students to the high school?
Why is an outside company being allowed to profit off of Alabama’s high school seniors?
Even if the company is “donating” the profit back to the high school, why not just let the high school collect the money? At least then we could track that money and find out how it was spent.
If the high school needs that money, why not spread the fundraising throughout the student population rather than take it from families who, in many cases, are getting ready to foot the bill for two to four years of college?
Has anyone ever asked if the financial burden of the senior year might contribute to students not graduating high school? [Don’t forget about the cost of college applications….]
What are the actual figures?
Because the big three are private companies, and because all transactions are handled directly through those private companies, that information is not available through public records requests.
Now I Need Your Help
Please share the cost of your child’s cap and gown and other senior expenses with me. I’m trying to figure out if and why the costs vary so much. To do that, I need examples…real information.
Here’s a Google form. Complete the parts you can, leave the other parts blank. All sources and names will be kept confidential. Sharing your name and email are optional, but will help me verify the information you submit by allowing me to contact you if I have questions.
Costs for Caps and Gowns Across the Country
In no particular order, here are the results of much searching across the World Wide Web.
Balfour had much more information online than the other large graduation supply companies.
This Georgia high school said the charge is $70.
This high school in Maryland uses Balfour, who charges $63.
*This RFP from Virginia (which requires bids for these items) shows 2013 prices for all three coming in far below the $80 threshold.
Here’s Balfour in Maryland’s main page for ordering caps and gowns. The prices vary depending upon which high school you choose.
Here’s a $34 charge.
A $30 charge (this a community college, though).
A $31 charge.
A $32 charge.
A $35 charge.
A $40 charge.
A $45 charge.
A $47 charge.
A $50 charge.
A $55 charge.
A $60 charge.
A $65 charge.
And a $75 charge.
This Maryland high school charges $40 through Balfour.
The state of California has a law mandating that schools not require a cap and gown to be purchased by a student. Loaners are to be made available. Schools in California aren’t following that law, according to this article.
Click around on this page for more of Jostens costs in California.
Clicking around on Balfour Florida’s site reveals lots of different charges for seemingly the same products.
Balfour of San Antonio charges $48 for a cap and gown to all high schools.
This high school in Texas charges $33.44 for a cap and gown through Balfour.
This New Jersey high school charges $20 for a cap and gown through Herff Jones.
Many More Questions to Ask
When my children graduated from high school, I felt like I had no choice but to pay the fees. My guess is that many of Alabama’s families feel the same way.
But is there a different way to “do” high school graduation that wouldn’t cost families so much money? In a year when many families are anticipating the cost of college?
Let’s talk about this. What do you think?