May 18, 2010

Dear Bowdoin Parents and Families,

The Bowdoin College Board of Trustees met this past weekend and approved a comprehensive fee of $52,880 for the 2010-2011 academic year. This represents a 3.9% increase over the current year and includes the following charges:

Tuition: $ 41,150
Room: $   5,295
Board: $   6,020
Student Activities: $      415
TOTAL: $ 52,880

While this is the lowest percentage increase since the 2000-01 academic year, we are well aware of the burden our fee places on Bowdoin families, especially since the economic situation in the United States has not improved significantly since last year and unemployment remains unacceptably high.

As we noted last year, our fee is substantial but it is not out of line with that charged by our peers among the nation’s very best colleges and universities, nor does it cover the total cost of educating our students. Within a comparison group of eighteen top liberal arts colleges, the difference between the most and least expensive is about $2,300 a year, and as the chart below illustrates, the total cost of educating each Bowdoin student is significantly more than we charge. The fact is that every Bowdoin student receives financial support from the College, largely provided through the strength of our endowment.

Cost Per Student

During this academic year, Bowdoin implemented the strategy developed last year to take account of the difficult economic times. We were guided in our deliberations by four objectives:

  1. Bowdoin would, first and foremost, continue to support the academic program to ensure a superior education for our students;
  2. Bowdoin would continue to support need-based financial aid to ensure access for all students who have earned the right to attend, regardless of their ability to pay our fee;
  3. Bowdoin would continue to maintain the upkeep of our facilities because we do not want to pass on deferred maintenance to future generations; and
  4. Bowdoin would ask each of its constituencies to "share the pain" on a relatively equal basis in order to avoid layoffs that would strain our sense of community and diminish our students’ experience.

With these objectives in mind, the College implemented a salary freeze for most faculty and staff for this academic year and, as planned, we have also held our departmental budgets flat for next year. In addition, the College has eliminated in excess of $1 million in operating costs (exclusive of salaries and benefits)—reductions that will now be permanent. Overall, the College is working hard to reduce expenses while not affecting the program made available to our students.

Due to a number of factors—including the prudent management of our endowment and the relatively rapid actions we took in the face of the economic downturn—the College has not been forced to impose the more drastic reductions in service or program seen at many of our peer institutions. At these colleges and universities, dining facilities and residence halls have been closed, faculty and staff have been laid off or forced into early retirement, “no-loan” policies have been abandoned or modified, financial aid has been reduced, and academic and extracurricular programs have been pared back or eliminated. None of this has occurred at Bowdoin, and I trust that your sons, daughters, and family members will report that their experience this year on our campus has been relatively unaffected by the economic downturn.

In fact, Bowdoin has continued to expand prudently over this period. With the success of our capital campaign completed about a year ago, we raised the funds necessary to support several new faculty positions at the College—teachers and scholars of distinction who have joined us this year or who will join the College over the next couple of years. For example, we now have a new oceanographer on the faculty, a creative writer, and a new assistant professor in Theatre and Dance, to name just a few of the nine faculty positions funded by the campaign. This continued expansion of our academic program will enhance opportunity for our students and is at the heart of Bowdoin’s intellectual mission. We have not, in any respect, reduced dining or facilities support for our students, nor has there been any reduction in staff support for residential life programs like athletics, counseling, and career services. Our libraries, museums, and performing arts facilities continue to operate at full strength, contributing in significant ways to the overall student experience.

Perhaps most importantly, as I promised last year in my letter to you, we have maintained our steadfast commitment to financial aid for students who cannot afford a Bowdoin education without support from the College. More than 40% of our students receive Bowdoin financial aid, and the average grant is approximately $34,000 per year. For the first time this year, we implemented the conversion of the entire loan portion of our aid packages to grants, thereby relieving students of the obligation to borrow to attend Bowdoin. It remains our intention at this point to maintain this “no-loan” policy, which has received widespread support from everyone connected to the College. Our financial aid commitment is, in my view, the cornerstone of Bowdoin’s longstanding commitment to the common good.

For those of you interested in more detail about the College’s economic situation, I recommend the summary I presented to the community a few weeks ago. This piece can be found online.

I also want to recommend to you the Bowdoin Daily Sun. This is a new blog that is updated daily by the College during the academic year, and Monday through Friday during the summer. It is on the Web, and readers can sign up to receive a daily e-mail with the latest postings. I write weekly for the Bowdoin Daily Sun and there are many daily items of general information intended to allow people a window into Bowdoin while also educating and entertaining our readers. We literally have thousands of devoted readers who click on the site daily. And many of these readers are parents and family members of our students. I encourage you to get connected to the Bowdoin Daily Sun and get more connected to Bowdoin.

It has been a glorious spring here at the College. For those who are parents of first-year students, I am sure you are hearing that the Maine spring is actually pretty nice. Well, Bowdoin is a beautiful place, but this spring has been unusually beautiful. We are at least three weeks ahead of our normal spring weather. It feels great, but I’m certain it’s making studying for final exams and writing those term papers all the more difficult for our students!

Thank you for your continued interest in and support for the College. I wish you all very healthy, happy, and fun summer.

Sincerely yours,

Barry Mills Signature
Barry Mills