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Students Protest Diploma Change

April 11, 1999

ATLANTA (AP) _ Some soon-to-be graduates are complaining that their expected sheepskins are being replaced with cheapskins.

At this spring’s graduation, Georgia State University won’t be handing out the traditional large, professionally engraved diplomas on heavy parchment. Instead, graduates will get smaller diplomas printed on lighter linen paper, with some of the printing done on a laser printer.

``I refuse to call it a diploma. It has the quality of a world’s greatest golfer certificate,″ said William G. Esslinger, a third-year law student.

The old diplomas measured 14 by 17 inches and were professionally printed in raised, engraved letters. The new diplomas are 11 by 14, the graduates’ names are smaller, the letters are lighter and fewer words are in raised ink.

``It’s not suitable for framing,″ Esslinger said.

Georgia State, a school of about 22,000 students in downtown Atlanta, isn’t the only one changing diplomas to save money. About 500 colleges and universities nationwide _ among the country’s more than 2,000 _ have made similar changes in the past few years, according to Cincinnati-based Scrip-Safe, which markets software that schools can use to print their own diplomas.

``I don’t think it’s getting away from tradition at all. It’s embracing more current technology,″ said Teri Childers of Scrip-Safe.

However, while the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill considered a similar change in 1995, it decided to stick with the so-called sheepskin quality diploma after students voiced strong dislike of a lighter-weight sample. Registrar David Lanier says he won’t bring up the idea again, although it would save money.

``They did not like the idea that it was not an engraved diploma,″ he said. ``On the day they pick it up, they want to be able to run their fingers across it and feel those engraved letters.″

Georgia State officials said that under the old system they had to send out graduation information to a printer months in advance, leaving them unable to update the diplomas with honors recognition.

In addition, the school was throwing away up to 40 percent of diplomas because many students eventually failed to meet graduation requirements.

The diplomas now come to Georgia State with partial engraving, on the seal, university name and most of the text. The student’s name, college, degree information and honors are then added by computer and a laser printer.

Nearly 1,500 graduates of Georgia State received the new diplomas last December, said Evelyn Babey, assistant vice president of enrollment services.

It was only recently that hundreds of students _ mostly law school and graduate students _ began to protest, she said.

Georgia State is reconsidering some of the changes, but it is sticking with the linen paper and overall design. It will decide this week whether to increase the size, which would mean buying additional equipment.

Another school, North Carolina State University, has received no complaints since switching to computer printing two years ago, said registrar Martha Welch.

``You can’t tell (the difference) unless you put them side by side and get nitty gritty with details,″ she said.

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