What about commencement?

March 21, 2020
  • Graduations and Events
  • Records and Academic Services
  • Research
female student sitting on a blue chair celebrates graduating while looking at her laptop

by Cody Schmitz, Director of Student Success & Registrar, Franciscan University of Steubenville

As restrictions on public gatherings continue to tighten due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), colleges and universities face a daunting task. They must decide whether to postpone, cancel, or reimagine the spring commencement ceremony: a deeply symbolic moment of transition for so many students.

I sent a brief survey to college and university registrars via a listserv to learn about their institutions’ plans, and the responses began to pour in immediately. Clearly, this is a front-of-mind issue for many in the profession.

Below find the survey results and an invitation to respond to a follow-up survey.

As of Friday March 20, the survey had recorded 203 responses. The majority of institutions--63%--reported that they still do not know whether their spring commencement ceremony will be held as planned. 25% have already determined to modify their ceremony date or format, and 12% still intend to proceed with their planned ceremonies.

Survey respondents who had already decided to modify their planned ceremonies chose different options. 43% indicated an intention to reschedule the ceremony. 33% plan to switch to a virtual ceremony, and 17% will cancel. 7% have firmly decided not to hold their scheduled ceremonies but do not yet know what they will do instead. 

Undecided institutions seem not to have taken anything off the table: the options listed above were under nearly equal consideration. Rescheduling was the most popular consideration with 29%, while a virtual or cancelled ceremony followed closely behind with about a quarter of respondents saying they were considering each. 19% indicated that their institution is considering proceeding as scheduled, and 6% are considering creative options such as multiple smaller ceremonies or holding ceremonies outdoors to increase social distancing.

This survey was intentionally brief and no identifying information was requested, as these discussions are often sensitive and confidential.

Since I distributed this survey on March 17, several uncertain schools have reached a final decision, and it would be helpful to refresh the numbers. It may also be helpful to see if there is a difference in planning based on institutional size, type, and location. To that end, please complete this brief survey.

If you completed the first survey, please feel free to answer this one as well, as it will provide updated and more precise information.


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