JACKSON TWP.  Hundreds of Kent State University at Stark students are celebrating more than the holidays this month. There were close to 224 students who walked across the stage at the Umstattd Performing Arts Hall on Dec. 15 to receive their college degrees.

While the weather outside was frightful, the goings on inside were delightful as 195 bachelor’s degrees and 29 associates degrees were handed out to students. Assistant Dean for Enrollment Management, Mary Southards, said that this ceremony was the largest fall graduation to date.

"The number of students graduating in the fall ceremony has increased 24 percent over the past two years," Southards said. "We hold a spring and a fall graduation each year. The number of students graduating in the spring is significantly larger because many of the degree programs such as nursing graduate in the spring. For a fall graduation, this class is the largest by far. And, despite the bad weather on Friday evening, we had a large crowd of parents, grandparents and children of the students cheering on the graduates."

Southards added there were a few students that couldn’t make it because of bad weather and those students are welcome to come and walk in the spring.

She said many reasons contribute to the largest fall graduating class this year. Increased enrollment is the biggest reason. For the fall of 2016 and 2017, Kent State at Stark enrolled more than 5,000 new and continuing students each of those two years.

Students come from Stark, Summit, Wayne, Tuscarawas, Carroll and Portage counties. The Stark campus also has 40 percent of its student population over the age of 21 years old.

"It’s typical for students who started after the age of 21 to take a bit longer to graduate because they have employment or family obligations that limit the number of classes they can take per semester. Students enrolling just out of high school tend to follow a more traditional schedule and graduate in the spring," Southards said.

Kent State at Stark is one of seven regional campuses that are part of the Kent State University system with the main campus located in Kent. There’s also a Kent State Regional Academic Center in Twinsburg.

Southards said that the Stark campus is the largest of the seven in terms of enrollment and second largest among other regional campuses in the state. And, that Kent State at Stark graduates more bachelor’s degrees than the other Kent regional campuses.

Kent State at Stark started offering bachelor’s degrees in they 1990s with English and history. Now, there are 20 different bachelor’s degrees that can be completed in their entirety at the Stark campus.

"We’ve been seeing more associate degree graduates in both the fall and spring. There is a state and national initiative to encourage students to earn an associates degree while working on their bachelor’s degree so they have something in hand versus just having some college," Southards said.

As with all graduations, emotions run high when students begin to feel the meaning of their achievements. Southards said she believes every graduate realizes the results of their persistence and determination when they get to the point of receiving their college degree.

She said it takes a strong commitment, a lot of determination and family support for students to reach this particle pinnacle of success.

"When you see the smiles on the graduates’ faces when they walk across the stage, you just know that they feel they’ve made it. Our speaker for the evening was Dr. Deidre Warren who is a professor on our campus. She told the graduates they should be proud of what they’ve accomplished. They met the challenges, stayed the course and didn’t give up," Southards said.