June 2, 2007
Welcome back to Bowdoin. And to those of you "from away," welcome back to Maine.
It is really an honor for me to stand before you this morning as president of Bowdoin. Like you, I am proud to be an alumnus of this great college.
I've said it many times at these events, but I have to restate that I am enormously proud – as an alumnus who reveres the history and traditions of this college – to have the opportunity to lead Bowdoin. I also admit to being more than a little humbled by the responsibility I have to all of you who feel so deeply for this College and are committed to its future.
I remain confident that with the support of the enormously talented people in this room and the thousands of Bowdoin alumni and friends around the country and world, that together – during our time – we will chart and sustain a course for this college that will ensure its continued excellence.
Again this year, Bowdoin has been the beneficiary of a striking level of generous support from alumni, parents and friends – support that means a great deal financially, but also represents a gratifying level of confidence in the College by people who matter a great deal, and who know Bowdoin best. From alumni who appreciate first-hand the lasting benefits of a Bowdoin education, to friends who see this college as a beacon, to past and present parents who, in addition to meeting the significant costs of educating their daughters and sons here, step forward to do even more.
In a few moments, you will hear about the impressive level of giving by the classes represented in this room today. This is your time to take pride in all that you do for Bowdoin and, through Bowdoin, for higher education in America. And it is a time for us to thank you once again, wholeheartedly, for your vital support.
As you walk around this campus on this beautiful spring weekend in Maine, I hope you also have a sense of pride in your College. Ours is among the most beautiful and historic college campuses in the world. And I am certain that as you stand in the middle of the quad this weekend you will all remember what a special place this is and what it means to you.
I am certain that as you all walk around this campus, regardless of your class, you wonder where all the years have gone and how quickly. This is especially true for me this year as I celebrate my 35th Bowdoin reunion with the members of the great class of 1972. Time really does go by quickly, and the past six years have really gone by so quickly as I continue my second education at Bowdoin as president of this College - but this time without having to take the exams or write the papers - but there are other tests and different kinds of challenges from the faculty and the entire community. It is good news that people still introduce me as the "new"president of Bowdoin despite my six year tenure here at the College, certainly better than the alternative and because this is a fantastic job with fantastic opportunity.
I would like to talk to you today briefly about a subject that comes to mind for every reunion class when they come back to campus. The cost of education today and the quality of education and opportunity that Bowdoin provides.
Let me give you some facts and connect some dots. The Bowdoin comprehensive fee for next year will be $46, 260. In my senior year, the fee was about $4200, so the growth is about 7% compounded annually. The fee has grown annually about 5% throughout the 90's and this decade, and grew at a higher rate in the late 70's and 80's. It may not be much comfort, but you should know that our fee is not out of line with the other colleges and universities in our cohort – the Williams, Amhersts, Middleburys, Dartmouths, and Browns of the world. We are all very expensive institutions.
As in the past, a significant portion of our operating revenue is from sources other than tuition and fees. The endowment, which had a value of $673.4 million on June 30, 2006, and is in excess of $750 million today, continues to be well-managed, growing at a rate that is in the top 10% of all colleges and universities. Our net investment return of 18.1% for 2005-06 was well above our peer college mean return of 10.7%, and the distribution from endowment to the operating budget ($27.3 million for next year) is our second-largest source of revenue. The generous gifts of individuals and foundations also provide significant operating support. We expect more than $18 million in alumni gifts, bequests and other designated funds for the 2007-08 year. Our continued success on these two fronts -- in building the endowment through gifts and wise management, and in securing annual contributions from alumni, parents and friends -- is essential to providing a Bowdoin education at current tuition levels. Without those two sources, our fee would approach $76,000 per student.
Alumni and parents often ask me if we could do more to hold down the cost of a Bowdoin education. I always answer that there are certain choices we could make to significantly reduce tuition, which provides 53% of our revenue. However, given the structure of expenses at Bowdoin we need to be clear about the sorts of cuts that would be necessary to achieve any meaningful reduction. Our options would include: eliminate a handful of academic departments; reduce the number of varsity sports in which we compete; ask the faculty to teach more classes, and larger classes; shift some of the course load to graduate students and away from professors; choose not to tackle construction projects such as creation of a world-class recital hall. I'm not being flip – in order to make a real difference in tuition we would have to really do things differently, to become a different college. Frankly, while it might work on a financial basis, I doubt that a changed Bowdoin would enjoy the same remarkable levels of alumni, student and parent support and interest that it has today.
These are simply daunting financial realities -- inherent in the residential liberal arts model of education we provide at the highest levels.
And, let's connect another data point --
Despite the cost of Bowdoin, this year over 6,000 students applied for admission to the class of 2011, and we were able to accept only 18 percent of these applicants. Our competition for these students were the finest colleges and universities in America: the Ivy League and liberal arts colleges like Williams and Amherst.
So – at these price points and with admissions statistics such as these – what is going on? Why are so many folks eager to come to Bowdoin when the cost is so high.
Clearly, there is a strong recognition, especially on both coasts of the United States that a residential liberal arts college provides a fantastic education of the mind and a superb community for young people to mature as one leaves home and before entering the "real world." A quote from a student at Harvard published recently in The New York Times summed it up: "…if you want great teachers – go to a liberal arts college." And I would add that these great teachers are also great scholars. At Bowdoin, they are the very same people.
And it is about the American Dream – that hard work and merit will lead to success. There are many financially successful families living the American Dream that want their sons and daughters to come to Bowdoin or other "elite" colleges and universities. Some will say cynically that their goal is to preserve and reinforce privilege for the few in America, or at least for their sons and daughters. Maybe so, for some. But few take their continued success for granted. My experience at Bowdoin tells me that these very fortunate families have important and sensitive aspirations for their children. They want their children to learn and mature in a community of scholars dedicated to teaching and research and in a community of students who are fundamentally good and humble people. I find few who take for granted that their sons and daughters will continue to prosper without hard work and a commitment to the values at Bowdoin that we hold dear. These families create the opportunity for their children to continue the American Dream – but they understand that their sons and daughters must be prepared to apply their talents and every effort to realize that dream. So for these parents in a very uncertain world, Bowdoin is a way for them to help their children on the path for continued success.
And then we have the families who struggle, and struggle mightily, with the cost of education. For these families, creating opportunity means sacrifice, and Bowdoin must do what it can to ease that burden.
As I have said many times, what we seek at Bowdoin are students of talent and promise, and this requires that we have a community here that is diverse in the broadest sense of the word. Bowdoin is a college that creates opportunity, and we have been doing so for more than two centuries. So for these parents and families, Bowdoin is about getting on the pathway for success in our society.
But let's not delude ourselves, ours is a challenging society. The American Dream has us believing that our children will do better than we have done if they work hard and if we, as parents and family, create opportunity for them. But we know that too often our society fails to create opportunity for all families – especially for the poor and, increasingly, for the "squeezed" middle class. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Clive Crook speaks to this issue and the sad reality that in America, too often poor children stay poor. "Before the 1990's, he reports, researchers found that 80 percent of children were making more than their parents had made a generation earlier. In the 1990's, he reports, based on better techniques and data, experts tended to put that figure at about 60 percent, and today estimates run as low as 40 percent." What that means is that the American Dream has stalled for more than half of the people in America. Whether the trend line is worse, or "the techniques of measurement are just better, Crook's point is that the American Dream is simply not a given for everyone in America." As a college committed to the common good, we must do all we can to change this.
As I have said many times there is no more important example of our commitment to the common good than our efforts to create opportunity for talented students regardless of their economic circumstances. At too many elite colleges and universities, first-generation college students, and students from families with lesser financial resources, are viewed as "a risk." At Bowdoin, we intentionally seek out these students to join us here. Some of you may fit that model, as I did when I came to Bowdoin as a student in the late 1960s.
We understand our capacity to not only change and improve the lives of these students. We also understand that a Bowdoin education can change the lives of these students, and then their families and their entire communities.
So, at Bowdoin, creating opportunity for all talented students regardless of their economic means is our responsibility. I spoke at the outset of our long history and of this commitment that has been our canon since the beginnings of this College. As our first president, Joseph McKeen, said in 1802, "If it be true no man should live for himself alone, we may safely assert that every man who has been aided by a public institution to acquire an education and to qualify himself for usefulness, is under peculiar obligations to exert his talents for the public good."
So we speak at Bowdon of opportunity, but we also continue at Bowdoin in the 21st century to recognize our responsibilities.
Our mission of education is at the heart of opportunity. David Shipler, at the conclusion of his book The Working Poor, writes "Opportunity and poverty in this country cannot be explained by either the American Myth that hard work is a panacea or by the Anti-Myth that the system imprisons the poor. Relief will come, if at all, in an amalgam that recognizes both the society's obligation through government and business, and the individual's obligation through labor and family – and the commitment of both society and individual through education."
And in the words of W.E.B. Du Bois: "there could be no education that was not at once for use in earning a living and for use in living a life."
And so as we sit as alumni of this great College, we are here today to celebrate Bowdoin, a college that understands and respects its responsibility to educate and to prepare our so very talented students from across America and the world for "living a life" – living a life committed to learning, wise and thoughtful judgment, and to participation in the life of our society. This is our enduring responsibility: to create opportunity for all through our residential liberal arts education in support of the common good.
I have visited many of you and with other alumni over these past six years, and I am proud to report that our alumni community continues to display the energy and determination that are required to achieve all that we want and expect for Bowdoin.
Colleges and universities across the country yearn to have an alumni group as talented, as generous, and as enthusiastic as this one. Bowdoin creates and nurtures special relationships with its sons and daughters. We respect and value those relationships and look forward to building even stronger ties with each of you as we advance the mission of this wonderful college.
Let me leave you with this final thought – life brings many twists and turns to us all – but for all of us – Bowdoin alums parents and friends – how did we get so lucky in life to be connected to this very special place – Bowdoin?
Karen and I are delighted to have you back on campus with us today, and we look forward to speaking with as many of you as we can this weekend, and to welcoming you again as many times in the future as you are able to return.
Now, enjoy the weekend!
I hope you take time to tour the campus, visit with faculty and staff, and take pleasure in your classmates, family and friends.
I hope you'll revel in some nostalgia for Bowdoin's past, take pride in the Bowdoin of today, and recommit yourselves to our important work together to shape an even stronger Bowdoin of tomorrow.