As seniors wrap up their finals and pick up their caps and gowns, some of them may be surprised that the classic ceremonial garb costs more than at other public universities.
The University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of South Florida and UCF all use Herff Jones as their cap and gown rental company, but UCF students pay more than the other three Florida universities. At UF, undergraduate students pay just under $40; at FSU, they pay about $54; at USF they pay $46; and at UCF, they pay about $85.
At UCF, students can only rent gowns through Herff Jones to ensure that they have official regalia.
"Commencement is the most important academic ceremony that the university partakes in," said UCF spokeswoman Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala. "To reflect its importance and to ensure the dignity of the occasion, the Herff Jones Company's design for regalia was selected as the official regalia for the ceremony."
The $85 that students pay to rent their cap and gown includes a $10 gift donation in support of the UCF Alumni Association. In exchange for their mandatory gift, students receive an alumni key chain, which gives students 15 percent off merchandise at UCF bookstores. If students turn in their gown late, they are subject to a $40 restocking fee for bachelor's students. And if bachelor's students don't turn back in their gowns, it's a $400 purchase price.
One student wanted to search other venues for a cheaper cap and gown, but couldn't due to UCF's policy.
"I didn't have an option to get it anywhere else, which is what my dad wanted me to do," said Emily Brady, a 2014 UCF graduate. "I didn't mind because it was a necessity. I would have liked to pay less because I know other schools give you that option."
When students purchase and pick up their cap and gown from the UCF Bookstore, they also receive five commencement ceremony tickets. If students don't rent a cap and gown through Herff Jones, they can't walk at the commencement ceremony or receive their commencement tickets.
"If a student does not have approved regalia, he or she will be asked to go to the bookstore table in the Venue where graduates line up, to see if any regalia is available to rent," Gonzalez Kotala said. "If none is available, the student will not be allowed to walk."
Even though the cost to rent a cap a gown at USF is cheaper, students also have to rent them through the campus bookstore, said Adam Freeman, public affairs coordinator for USF. Some other Florida universities encourage students to rent caps and gowns through Herff Jones, but allow students to purchase gowns elsewhere.
"We encourage all students to get the gown from the UF bookstore. This helps to make sure every graduate at every level looks the same," said Lynne Vaughan, director of the University of Florida bookstores. "When the students order their regalia online through the school, it enables the colleges to know how to set up for each ceremony with the correct amount of seating.
Despite UF encouraging its students to rent their caps and gowns through the bookstore, one student purchased her cap and gown from Goodwill.
"I figured that was a lot of money, especially to wear something and give it back," said UF 2014 graduate Amanda Burke. "So, I actually got the idea from a roommate; I went to Goodwill and there was somebody's cap and gown that they had donated."
Burke bought the cap and gown for $10 and purchased her tassel at the bookstore for about $14. When she was done with her gown, she gave it to her roommate, who is a year younger than her.
Students at FSU are also encouraged to rent their cap and gown through the FSU bookstore, but don't have to as long as their gown is black. But at FSU, students aren't allowed to keep their caps after graduation.