UNC Media Relations echoed that the cap and gown attire is optional in an email statement.
Rosenzweig said he sees the lack of formal dress code for graduation as the University’s way of avoiding pressure to allocate funds toward the provision of caps and gowns.
“You don't want to be the one person who doesn't show up in the cap and gown,” he said. “By saying that, they absolve themselves of the burden of the individual cost and then are able to place that onto the student, which I think is a little frustrating.”
Several graduating seniors said other universities provide graduation regalia at reduced cost or for free.
Treasure Rouse is a graduating senior studying history and American studies. She pointed out that East Carolina University builds the cost of cap and gown into other student fees.
Additionally, according to UNC-Wilmington's commencement website, graduation regalia is included within tuition and fees.
Graduating philosophy student William Etringer said that when he graduated from a North Carolina community college, all his regalia and graduation photographs were included in his tuition and fees.
But at UNC, he said he has already spent $120 on his cap, gown, stole and tassel.
“For some people, that cost is negligible — right, like $120 is not much at all,” Etringer said. “But for others, it can make a big difference in their ability to pay rent or buy groceries.”
He also equated the cost of his cap, gown, stole and tassel to four tanks of gas that he can no longer buy.
Etringer is a zero Expected Family Contribution student, meaning his cost of attendance is entirely met by scholarship and need-based aid. But he said this aid does not extend to graduation costs.
He said he believes he will spend $500-600 in total on graduation and associated purchases.
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Rouse, who supports herself independently by working as a resident advisor in Craige Residence Hall and as an employee at Chipotle, also estimates her graduation costs will be about $500.
“What is our tuition going towards, if it's not graduation stuff?” she said. “I feel for the most part, all seniors should get their stuff free here because we pay so much. Even if you don't pay and you’re on scholarship, that should be covered because the whole idea for us being here is to graduate.”
Rosenzweig and Rouse both said that UNC could do more to connect seniors with used caps and gowns. They suggested that the University create a rental service like the one for faculty regalia.
Etringer said that until the University does something to minimize graduation costs, they will continue to be an imposition for financially strained graduating seniors.
“It seems like UNC in practice is just having the wealthiest students enjoy their success from their four years," he said. "And economically disadvantaged students have to choose between celebrating their hard work and literally putting food on the table. And that seems to run directly counter to the mission of the public University.”
Editor's Note: Brian Rosenzweig is a former staff member of The Daily Tar Heel.