The Bowdoin Board of Trustees came to campus for our annual May meeting this past weekend. The May meeting is when we approve our budget for the coming academic year, including our comprehensive fee. A great deal of thought and discussion goes into setting the comprehensive fee, which will be $52,880 next year—a 3.9% increase over last year and the smallest percentage increase in a decade. Even so, I write this with a full appreciation of the enormous cost of a quality private college education. Our fee places Bowdoin in the top of the mid range of fees charged by our 18-college comparison group, and the difference between the most and least expensive in that group is about $2,300 a year. A larger and slowly widening gap exists between what the liberal arts colleges charge and the fee at some of the wealthier Ivy League institutions that are able to charge a bit less.
I announced our new fee to parents in an e-mail message on Wednesday (parents without e-mail will receive a printed copy of my letter, which is also available on the Bowdoin Web site). Thus far, the reaction to our fee increase has been measured and supportive, with parents expressing concern about the rising costs but also understanding the value of the education and experience we provide to their sons and daughters. A few parents are, of course, outraged at the cost, and they are letting us know.
I understand the financial pressure families are under, particularly these days. And I appreciate the sacrifice many are making in order to provide a Bowdoin education for their children. Ours is not an inexpensive or particularly efficient model. In fact, the true cost per student far exceeds our fee, even at over $50,000 a year. Every student at Bowdoin—whether they are receiving need-based financial aid or not—benefits from a significant subsidy by the College, provided largely through the strength of our endowment. As the chart below illustrates, it costs Bowdoin more than $86,000 a year to educate each student at the College.
As I have said many times, we could, without much difficulty, create a strategy to lower the cost of Bowdoin quite significantly, but the result would not be the place we value and admire. We would have larger classes, fewer disciplines, much less generous housing and food, fewer athletic opportunities, and fewer faculty and staff. It simply wouldn’t be the Bowdoin we love, or the education and intellectual environment we aspire to provide for our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
So, as we confront the economic realities of operating the College, the realities of our nation’s economy, and the financial stress experienced by families, it is critical for Bowdoin to provide the financial aid necessary to ensure that we can continue to attract and enroll those students who deserve to be here, regardless of their financial means. This is simply the imperative that will ensure the strength of this College into the future.
Following our budget deliberations and discussions on several other matters, the Board of Trustees conducted another bit of traditional spring business, as we offered our thanks and deep appreciation to Marijane Benner Browne ’83 and Michael Cary ’71, both of whom are stepping down from the Board after many years of generous service to the College. Marijane was among the very first leaders of our Board to lead the charge on diversity at Bowdoin. And Michael, my high school classmate from Pilgrim High School in Warwick, Rhode Island, brought to us a wealth of knowledge and experience, particularly in student life and admissions. We will miss them at our Board meetings, but I know that both will remain active in the life of the College, and I look forward to their continued friendship and counsel for years to come.
We also elected a new Trustee—Arthur Black ’91, of New York City. Art is a founding partner and director of client service for the investment management firm BBR Partners, and we are delighted that he will be joining the Board.
Finally, there was something of a changing of the guard on Saturday, as my boss and our Board chair for the past five years, Peter Small ’64, prepares to step down as chair at the end of June. Peter, who will remain on the Board, is devoted to Bowdoin and has been a vital part of all that we have accomplished for many years at the College, but particularly over the past five years. Peter is a fantastic person and Bowdoin has been so fortunate to have him lead the Trustees. He is a close personal friend and will remain so for me forever.
My new boss and my classmate at Bowdoin, Steve Gormley ’72, will succeed Peter as chair. Steve is a co-founder and a managing partner at Great Hill Partners in Boston who has served on the Board since 2001. The College is seriously at risk with two members of that infamous class at the helm, but Steve is a very talented guy with two daughters who have graduated from Bowdoin and a third at the College today. Steve knows a lot about Bowdoin from a lot of angles and I look forward to working with him during these next three years.
One of the last items of business at our meeting—another May tradition—was to officially approve the roster of students who will receive their Bowdoin degrees a week from Saturday. This formality comes and goes quickly at the Board meeting, but it always lifts the mood and prompts a sustained round of applause. It is a vote that underscores why we meet in the first place, and reminds us just how far these young women and men have come during the past four years. It will be my pleasure and my honor to join Peter Small one last time on the steps of the Walker Art Building next Saturday to send them on their way.
In the coming weeks, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at email@example.com
Previous Bowdoin Daily Sun columns by President Barry Mills are available on the Bowdoin Web site.