January 18, 2008

To Members of the Bowdoin Community,

I am very pleased to announce that Bowdoin will eliminate loans for all new and current students receiving financial aid, replacing those loans with grants beginning with the 2008-09 academic year. This applies to all future aid awards at Bowdoin.

This action, approved today by the Board of Trustees, is intended to greatly enhance our ability to attract and retain students of great promise, regardless of their economic circumstances. It reduces significantly the barriers to a Bowdoin education for students from low- and many middle-income families, while also permitting our graduates to pursue career paths and graduate education based on their talents, interests, and promise in a particular field, not on their capacity to repay student loans.

With this decision, Bowdoin is one of only two colleges with endowments of less than $1 billion to eliminate loans for both first-year and current students.* We are the first "need-blind" college with an endowment of less than $1 billion to do so, and are also the first college in Maine to eliminate loans for all students. We join a very select group of elite colleges and universities - including Princeton, Davidson, Amherst, Williams, Harvard, Pomona, Swarthmore, and Yale - instituting a "no-loan" policy for all students on aid. And Bowdoin's policy is among the more ambitious announced thus far, given the size of our endowment, the percentage of students at Bowdoin who receive aid, the size of the aid package provided, and Bowdoin's commitment to meet the full demonstrated need of its students for all four years.

Endowments at "Need-Blind" Institutions Eliminating Loans for All Students (June 30, 2007)

Harvard $ 34.6 billion
Yale $ 22.5 billion
Princeton $ 15.8 billion
Williams $ 2.0 billion
Pomona $ 1.8 billion
Amherst $ 1.7 billion
Swarthmore $ 1.4 billion
Bowdoin $ 828 million

Over the last several months, many at the College have worked to fully understand the costs, benefits, and implications for Bowdoin of a "no-loan" policy. Many of you may have seen recent press reports expressing legitimate concerns that the elimination of student loans by wealthy colleges and universities may force less well-endowed colleges to shift away from need-based aid and to admit more wealthy and middle-class students at the expense of the poor. This will not be the case at Bowdoin.

With approximately 13 percent of our students currently receiving Pell grants for low-income students, Bowdoin is considered to be among the most economically diverse liberal arts colleges in America. While eliminating loans for our students on financial aid will be expensive, Bowdoin will not abandon its commitment to educate the poorest in our society in order to fund this new initiative.

Bowdoin currently provides need-based financial aid to 40 percent of our students, with the average financial aid package (Bowdoin grant, loan, and work-study) approaching $30,000 in the current academic year, including a typical grant of $24,000. Current first-year students had been expected to graduate in 2011 with an average loan obligation of $21,000 - a number that would have continued to increase for subsequent classes. But by converting loans to grants, we will eliminate a significant debt burden for next year's entering class while capping debt at current levels for continuing students.

In addition to ensuring access to Bowdoin for exceptional students of all financial circumstances, we have sought with this initiative to remove student debt from decisions about what our students might do after they graduate. The vast majority of our students go on to pursue graduate or professional study after Bowdoin. Some see a calling in such vital but often low paying fields as teaching or social work. With significant debt at graduation, some students will undoubtedly be forced to make career or education choices not on the basis of their talents, interests, and promise in a particular field, but rather on their capacity to repay student loans. As an institution devoted to the common good, Bowdoin must consider the fairness of such a result.

In order to fully fund our financial aid program - including the conversion of student loans to grants - the College will earmark approximately $22 million in fiscal 2008-09, or 16 percent of our $140 million operating budget. The financial aid budget is expected to increase annually as the costs of a Bowdoin education also continues to rise.

While this initiative benefits all of our students who have students loans, it is especially meaningful to low- and middle-income students from Maine. While 12 percent of Bowdoin's students come from Maine, they receive a disproportionate 18 percent of Bowdoin's aid budget. The new "no-loan" initiative will have a similarly positive impact on Maine students.

This is only the latest step in our focused efforts to ensure access and opportunity for every student who has earned the right to a Bowdoin education. And our work will go on. Student aid is the single largest component in The Bowdoin Campaign, our five-year effort to conclude in June 2009 that seeks to raise $250 million for the College. Of this amount, nearly $77 million is earmarked for financial aid. We are blessed to have the support of our entire community as we move successfully toward this important goal.

As I have said many times, we could make Bowdoin less expensive by eliminating portions of our curriculum, by having fewer faculty and larger classes, by reducing athletic opportunities, the availability of cutting-edge technology and scientific equipment, or the opportunity to work side-by-side with faculty in the field. There are many ways to cut costs, but then we would make Bowdoin much less than it can be and much less than it has been over its 214-year history. Instead, our challenge is to continue to do all we can to maintain the excellence of this College while providing the means for exceptional students to enroll and succeed here, regardless of their economic circumstances. Today, we take another giant step in support of that essential mission.

Sincerely yours,

Barry Mills

* Davidson College (N.C.) has also eliminated loans for both incoming and current students. Haverford College (Penn.) has announced that it will eliminate loans for all incoming first-year students while reducing the loan burden for continuing students.