Dear Bowdoin Parent,
I write on the six month anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – a day in September that changed all of our lives, and one that cast an uneasy pall over the opening of the College's 200th academic year. Half a year later, each of us lives with the changes brought on by those terrible events. But some things haven't changed. The Bowdoin campus, made vibrant by your sons and daughters, remains a place of optimism, enthusiasm, and creativity. In many ways it has been the perfect place to be these last six months – a place where learning, dialogue, and respectful debate overwhelm intolerance, ignorance, and hate.
Bowdoin lost alumni, parents, and friends last September, and the College – like all of America – took a good deal of time to regain its equilibrium. But, just like America, Bowdoin is resilient and remains an engaged and hopeful community. As we near the end of the year, we are mindful of the men and women of our armed forces – members of the Bowdoin community among them – who are fighting to preserve and protect the United States and the rest of the world from the terror of extremists. All of us are supportive and genuinely grateful for their commitment and sacrifice.
Most of our students have now scattered from campus for spring break after a very intense couple of weeks filled with term papers and midterm exams. As they take a much-needed holiday, I want to share some thoughts on the year thus far.
First, some necessary information:
During their campus meetings in early February, the Board of Trustees approved the College's budget for the 2002-2003 academic year. The budget is balanced and anticipates expenses of $102.4 million. The comprehensive fee for next year will be $35,990, representing a 5% increase over the current year.
I recognize that this increase places an additional burden on the families of our students. And I know it is no consolation to learn that 5% is at the lower range of increases for public and private colleges and universities nationwide. The stark reality of the residential liberal arts college is that our expenses are not accurately reflected by the Consumer Price Index because we are built on a fundamentally different model. What we do here is based on the relationship between the faculty and our students. We take pride in a very low student-faculty ratio and in the personal attention that our students receive from faculty, staff, and coaches. Undeniably, ours is an expensive form of education, but we believe deeply in its value and benefits, and we strive to be efficient in the delivery of our program and to live within our means.
The budget approved last month by the Trustees represents the tenth consecutive balanced budget for the College. The budget in 1995-96 totaled $62.7 million. This year the budget stands at $102.4 million – an increase that is a clear result of a necessary expansion of the curriculum and of programs that give strength and breadth to the Bowdoin experience and value to a Bowdoin degree.
This budget year was particularly difficult for a number of reasons that have been largely out of the College's control. First, the financial markets suffered a dramatic downturn due to the recession that is reported to have begun nearly a year ago and then exacerbated by the economic impact of September 11. We had already seen our endowment decrease from $465 million on June 30, 2000 to $433 million on June 30, 2001 – a loss in value of 7%. While I am pleased to report that we have had good performance during the last few months, the endowment remains at levels significantly below what we had anticipated for this period prior to September 11. Of course, the size of the endowment is important because we utilize a portion each year for current expenditures in order to balance our budget. As the value decreases, so does the revenue available for the annual operating budget.
Another challenge has been the cost of health care, which continues to spiral in the United States generally and in the state of Maine particularly. Our employee health care costs increased by 33% this year, forcing us to make difficult decisions on health care coverage and employee compensation in order to meet these increased costs.
As the cost of a Bowdoin education increases, so must our commitment to financial aid for those with need. I have been questioned vigorously by the students on campus about the College's commitment to financial aid. First, let me be clear that all students at Bowdoin receive financial support from the College. Next year's comprehensive fee of $35,990 will represent only 55% of the total cost of educating a student at Bowdoin. Accordingly, "full-pay" students receive a significant subsidy from the College through the annual expenditure of endowment funds generously provided by Bowdoin alumni, friends, parents, and foundations.
Bowdoin remains committed to the admission of qualified students on a "need-blind" basis. The College has been need-blind for eight consecutive years and for nine of the past 11 years. Our budgets are designed to maintain this high priority. Moreover, we are also committed to meeting the full calculated need of our students for all four years. We expect that the 2002-2003 budget – which includes an 11.5% increase in total student aid – will allow us to meet the full calculated need of the students we will admit this year as well as all students currently enrolled who qualify for aid.
All that being said, only 56% of annual projected grant expense is covered by financial aid endowment. We are intensely focused on increasing financial aid endowment for the College so that we may continue to attract the best and brightest students without the limitation of economic circumstance. Success in this effort will ensure that Bowdoin remains a superior college educating students from all walks of life to be the informed leaders that our society and the world desperately need.
As I near the end of my first year as president of the College, I continue to be inspired by the character, integrity, and diligence of your sons and daughters. The spirit on campus is very high, especially because of the fantastic success of our winter sports programs. Three of our teams participated this past week in post-season play, with the women's hockey team reaching the Division III "Final Four," the women's basketball team making it all the way to the NCAA regional finals after an amazing 22-1 regular season, and the men's hockey team playing in the NCAA tournament after a thrilling standing-room-only season in Dayton Arena. We also saw numerous individual honors in track, swimming, and squash, adding to high spirits and enthusiasm during what was a rather mild and otherwise unremarkable Maine winter.
Bowdoin students are a diverse lot, and the array of student performances, art exhibits, and community service projects is impressive. Since September, approximately 600 students have volunteered about 12,200 hours in service to the local community. They have volunteered in local schools and hospitals, assisted the elderly, organized blood drives, and worked with Habitat for Humanity to provide housing for low-income residents. In fact, 18 Bowdoin students are currently spending spring break in Peru helping to rehabilitate homes and participating in social work related causes.
On campus, our theater was filled to capacity this year for student performances of Lanford Wilson's play "Book of Days" and David Hirson's "La Bête." We were moved by the Bowdoin Chorus performance of "Music of Mourning and Hope" in memory of the victims of September 11. Anokha – the Bowdoin South Asian students coalition – helped organize the first annual South Asian Film Festival, while students from Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby studying at our center in South Africa sent us their thoughts and observations in a series called "Cape Town Diaries" which was published during the fall semester on the Bowdoin web site.
The faculty continues to be devoted to its teaching, working closely with students in class and on independent studies and honors projects. Today there are currently 192 independent study projects and 75 honors projects underway at the College. I see this as compelling evidence of a Bowdoin specialty: serious scholarship engaged in by students, grounded in personal attention by dedicated members of the faculty. Meanwhile, our faculty continues to be prolific in their own research, scholarship and artistic work. Some examples include:
This is hardly an exhaustive list of faculty accomplishment, but I believe it illustrates the serious scholarship and artistic work conducted by members of the Bowdoin faculty, which, in many cases, involves direct participation by students.
People frequently ask me whether the job of a college president is what I expected when I arrived in Brunswick just nine months ago. My response is that the opportunity to lead Bowdoin is even more interesting, rewarding, and fun than I expected it would be. This is in large measure due to the quality of character and the intellect of Bowdoin's students. Thank you for entrusting your daughters and sons to us and for allowing us to share in their enthusiasm for the future. I look forward to greeting the parents of our graduating seniors in May.