The University of Arizona is dropping its winter commencement ceremony in favor of its flashier spring event, part of a bid to create more buzz around the “UA brand.”

The school announced the change Thursday as confusion swirled among students due to graduate this coming December.

If those students want to be part of a cap-and-gown commencement, they’ll now have to do so in May, either six months before they graduate or six months after, a UA news release said.

The UA is the only public university in the state to make the change. Arizona State University in Tempe and Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff still offer both spring and winter commencements.

The UA’s fireworks-studded spring event, held at Arizona Stadium last May at more than triple the normal cost, drew so much national media attention that the university decided to drop the low-key December event to focus on the high-profile fanfare.

“Branding is a piece of it,” UA Associate Vice President Kasey Urquidez said of the change, referring to the business practice of creating a strong identity in the competitive marketplace.

The 2013 spring event — which also featured fog machines, hip-hop music and Jumbotron imaging in the football stadium — created an image of excitement and achievement that could inspire future students to choose the school, Urquidez said.

“It has a lot more power behind it as far as showing what the end result is for our students,” she said.

Moving spring commencement to the stadium from its former home at McKale Center wasn’t cheap. The cost of the event jumped from about $150,000 to about $500,000.

Canceling the winter commencement will save about $100,000 a year, money that now will help pay for the spring ceremony, Urquidez said.

Winter graduates will still get recognition at events held by individual colleges, she said.

That won’t be much comfort for many winter graduates, said UA student body President Morgan Abraham.

The traditional cap-and-gown walk, which symbolizes the end of the long road for a degree, will likely be a letdown for students who have yet to finish their studies, he said.

“One of things that makes graduation exciting is the sense that you’re done. If you’re walking early, it’s not the same,” said Abraham, who added that he spent much of Thursday fielding calls and emails from students upset by the change.

Having graduates return six months later for commencement also can pose a problem, because many have started working by then, sometimes far from Tucson, he added.

Abraham said he first heard of the potential change earlier this year when UA President Ann Weaver Hart mentioned it during a meeting with student leaders in her office.

He said he assumed there would be follow-up contact to allow for input before a final decision was made.

The UA’s Urquidez said the meeting took place. She said her understanding was that it was held specifically to solicit opinions from student leaders.

The UA’s winter commencement ceremony typically draws several thousand students and guests.

The number of UA degrees awarded in December has ranged from about 2,500 to 3,800 in recent years. About 6,600 degrees were awarded during spring commencement last year.

Reporter Carol Ann Alaimo can be reached at or 573-418.