November 17, 2011
In his latest post, President Barry Mills revisits the discussion with Bowdoin families during Parents Weekend—focusing this time on one of the reasons for the high cost of college.
I promised last time I wrote that I would follow up on some of the other important issues raised by parents when we all got together over Parents Weekend, including the high cost of higher education. To be clear, there are many drivers for these costs, but among them are the many services we provide. One such service deals with the health and safety of our students.
Aside from JOBS, safety and security dominated the Parents Weekend discussion. (When we finally got one question about the academic program, I duly noted that we are actually an educational institution, first and foremost.)
On the issue of safety and security there was a very legitimate question about mental health on campus and what we do to keep our students safe. The issue was fresh on many minds following a recent tragic suicide on the MIT campus. We reviewed the efforts we make to ensure the health and safety of Bowdoin students—care supplemented with excellent service provided by our local hospitals and clinics. Our students are also closely connected to our Counseling Center and to the various deans here. And because our students are also very close to our faculty, the faculty themselves often provide us with important information that allows us to intervene in a student’s life when difficulties set in. All of this said, just like any community, we always have students who are at risk and we always worry about the possibility of a tragedy. We hope this is less likely here because it’s nearly impossible to get lost at Bowdoin. We are an intimate campus where people look out for their neighbors and friends.
To support this effort for our students, we have—during the academic year—four people who work in our Health Center and four counselors in our Counseling Center. We also have two consulting physicians, two consulting psychiatrists, interns, a consulting nutritionist, an orthopedist on call, and a physical therapist tending to our students. This doesn’t include the training staff available to our athletes or the numerous professionals in our local community who support our students independently. This may seem like a lot of “overhead,” but about a quarter of our students visit the Counseling Center each year. Last year alone, there were 5,621 visits to our Health Center, and we’re a healthy campus based on our understanding of the statistics at other schools.
I recently listened to a commentary about the cost of higher education by a faculty member elsewhere who laid most of the blame on a proliferation of administrators who do nothing to enhance the academic mission at their colleges. There may be something to this, but I suspect part of this proliferation is in the area of student life where criticism is often directed at the cost of all the health and safety people and services I describe. This is also a concern I hear sometimes from alumni.
Let’s remember the world we live in today. It’s a world where growing numbers of people are supported by medication and receive care and counseling that makes them healthier and happier. Bowdoin is no different from the rest of society—ours is a high-pressure environment where students and faculty are pushed by themselves and each other to accomplish great things. And our students are not immune to the strains and pressures of life on campus or to difficulties back home. Bowdoin is a pretty fantastic place and everyone is privileged to be here, but we do need to recognize the realities of today’s world.
So, as a learning and residential community, it is incumbent on us to provide the support for our students and community that allows them to remain healthy and secure. The family members in the room on Parents Weekend appeared grateful for the support provided by the College, and when we were done, I think they understood better the linkage between the cost of college and this aspect of modern college life.