GPC cancels fall graduation ceremony

CLARKSTON -- Georgia Perimeter College students graduating in the fall will have to wait until the spring to celebrate with their classmates.

The president sent an email to students in late September, and officials posted the information again on the GPC Facebook page in November, that the college only will have one graduation ceremony this year, instead of holding an additional fall ceremony, which was scheduled for Friday.

"Over the past three years, the college has seen a steady increase in the number of students and guests attending both the fall and spring GPC commencement programs," said GPC interim President Robb Watts. "This increase has created customer service issues owing to the limited seating space in the Clarkston Campus gymnasium for students, guests, faculty and staff."

He said that a little more than a third of the candidates for graduation attend the ceremony each semester and the average number of guests per student attending past ceremonies is about five, even though students are allotted four tickets.

"In addition to the continuing increase in student participation, we have also experienced an increase in the cost associated with holding multiple commencement programs," Watts said. "Shifting from two commencement programs at the Clarkston Campus gymnasium to one program ... will save the college approximately $14,000."

During the spring 2012 semester, the Commencement Committee reviewed other location options that would accommodate the growing number of students participating in commencement, Watts said.

As a result, it was determined that the school's next commencement program will be held on Friday, May 3, 2013, at the Atlanta Civic Center. Fall graduates would be moved to that ceremony; they will still be able to graduate in the fall, just with no ceremony, according to Beverly James, assistant director of Media Relations at GPC.

"Utilizing the Atlanta Civic Center will allow the college to have one commencement program that will comfortably accommodate all our students, guests, faculty and staff," Watts said.

In the past, the college only held one graduation ceremony for students. James wasn't sure how long the college had been holding two ceremonies.

She said nearly 800 students are eligible to graduate this month.

Some students planning to graduate in the fall already have paid their $25 graduation fees, and James said that those won't be refunded because they are used for preparation of diplomas and for processing their graduation paperwork.

A group of students began a Facebook page in early November called "Save GPC Fall Graduation," and so far less than 50 people have "liked" the page. One student said she wanted to participate in a ceremony during the same semester she graduated.

Students also organized a petition, which more than 300 students signed, according to the Facebook page.

The decision to hold one graduation ceremony each year is a permanent one, James said.

Over the summer, GPC had to reduce its staff of 3,000 by nearly 300 employees, after the University System of Georgia announced it could face a multi-million deficit this year. In May, then-president Anthony Tricoli stepped down after financial problems led to a budget shortfall at the two-year institution; later Watts was appointed as the interim president.

GPC is the third largest institution in the University System of Georgia, serving nearly 27,000 students on its campuses, as well as several sites in metro Atlanta, including partnerships at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers and the Newton College & Career Academy in Covington.