Letter to Parents May 2011

May 18, 2011

Dear Parents and Families,

The Board of Trustees of the College has adopted the following as tuition and fees for the 2011-2012 academic year:

Tuition $42,386
Room 5,454
Board1 6,200
Student Activities Fee 430
Total Estimated Comprehensive Fee $54,470

1 Board reflects the standard full-board rate.


This represents a 3% increase over Bowdoin’s current comprehensive fee, and the smallest annual increase since 1971. While we are pleased to be able to moderate our fee increase this year, we understand that the total cost of a Bowdoin education remains very expensive. We also understand the economic challenges everyone continues to face in these very uncertain days. The pressure that families feel to pay for a quality education for their children has always been intense and it is particularly so in these times. It’s our job to provide that quality education, and I assure you that we take this responsibility very seriously.

It is worthwhile to remember that it actually costs more than $80,000 per student, per year, to provide the education and resources available to each and every Bowdoin student. All of our students, even if their families are paying 100% of the comprehensive fee, receive substantial financial support from Bowdoin—support made possible from the draw on the College’s endowment and from gifts to the College from alumni, parents, and friends.

As I have written many times previously, ours is a very straightforward financial formula: the quality provided by Bowdoin is directly related to our resources. These resources—generated by the comprehensive fee, the draw on our endowment, and gifts to the College—define the education and the experience we provide to our students. Of course, the choices we make also affect our quality, but these choices and our priorities are very clearly limited by our financial means.

This straightforward formula and how colleges and universities have utilized their resources are explained well by economists Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman in their very readable volume, Why Does College Cost So Much? (Oxford University Press). This book explains in clear terms that the cost of college at places like Bowdoin has increased in ways that are predictable, given the expansion of program, the demands of parents and students, and technology. The analysis debunks, for the most part, the conventional wisdom that these places are wasteful and indifferent to their costs.

The path ahead is clear. Above all else, we must continue to maintain Bowdoin’s quality. We must also continue to provide an opportunity for all students of talent to come to Bowdoin without regard to their ability to pay.

It is likely that, in the foreseeable future, we will all continue to face continued pressure on our available resources. The ongoing challenge at our College will be to make decisions that advance the quality and value of a Bowdoin education while also recognizing the pressure we place on families to pay our fee.

I am often asked—usually politely—why it is that we can’t cut the cost of attending Bowdoin or at least moderate further the rate of increase of our comprehensive fee. The answer is, of course, that we can reduce the cost and moderate our fees, but to do so would come at the expense of quality, as it is currently defined at Bowdoin. One cannot seriously moderate costs by shrinking staffing levels around the edges or eliminating jobs in dining or facilities. If we were to cut our costs in any material respect, we would have to consider eliminating programs at the College. And, when you ask folks to identify the program or programs to be cut, that’s when the genuine dilemma of these economic times becomes crystal clear. A Bowdoin education and the Bowdoin experience are so valuable and so exceptional, it is really tough to comprehend where to cut it back in any important way.

Nonetheless, we have reduced our costs substantially over the past few years in response to our economic challenges. Our faculty and staff lived for nearly two years with salaries frozen at 2008 levels. We moderated new hires and put building projects on hold. These actions have resulted in millions of dollars of savings and made possible a lower than expected increase in our comprehensive fee, but they have not in any material respect affected the experience for our students.

The path ahead is clear. Above all else, we must continue to maintain Bowdoin’s quality. We must also continue to provide an opportunity for all students of talent to come to Bowdoin without regard to their ability to pay. And we must remain steadfast in our commitment to the common good. These guideposts are unambiguous and must remain in place.

As I have said for many years, the measure of our success will be linked to the size of our endowment and the level of annual gifts to the College. Our students, both today and in the future, are the fortunate benefactors of generations of devoted and generous alumni, parents, and friends of Bowdoin. These people support our College because they believe passionately in our mission.

It has been another fantastic year at Bowdoin. Our students—your sons and daughters and family members—have accomplished so much, and we are very proud of their achievements. We look forward to the end of the semester and a welcome break for our students, faculty, and staff. And we look forward even more to the late summer when we will welcome our students back to campus to renew the traditions, sense of community, and enthusiasm for learning and growth that have been the hallmarks of this great college for more than two centuries.

Thank you all for your commitment to Bowdoin.

Very truly yours,

Barry Mills