The College has created an online form for students to apply for emergency financial aid, Dean of Students Janet Lohmann announced in an email to the student body last Friday.
The fund—which will cover the costs of “emergencies, special programs, test prep, supplies, travel and unanticipated events,” according to the website—is composed of donations from the Bowdoin community.
While the funds for emergency financial aid are not new, information about it was not previously publicly available to students. Instead, staff and faculty members were notified of the fund and could inform students who they perceived to be in need. The standardized application, available on the website for the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, is designed to make the process more equitable.
“Some people might know about the existence of the funds, but not everybody,” said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster. “We decided that we wanted to be really transparent. Instead of just notifying faculty, advisors and deans, we decided to let the whole community know.”
Lohmann emphasized that this transparency is designed to make the resources more readily available to students seeking help.
“We had been talking about how, in the spirit of equity and access to resources, the best way to do this would be to give access directly to students,” she said.
The fund is made possible by donations to the college.
“[Due to] the generosity of alumni and parents, we have funds that are made available almost exclusively to support students who are on aid,” Foster said.
However, he added, “These funds are limited. It’ll be interesting to see what our ability is to meet needs [as they arise]. It’s too early to know that yet.”
In past years, the fund has run out of resources even though its existence was not publicly known, Lohmann said.
Although there is a single form to apply for the aid, the emergency aid fund is actually a group of a number of smaller funds, each of which has a specific purpose.
“Different funds have different designated specialties,” Lohmann said. “So we don’t prioritize.”
For example, one fund is specifically for art supplies. Visual arts classes typically require students to purchase their own supplies, which can cost more than the textbook allowance in students’ financial aid packages.
“A family set up this wonderful fund that allows for students on aid to pay for art supplies. It might be an art kit, it might be photographic paper—different costs that are above and beyond the typical cost of books and supplies,” Foster said.
The fund does not cover tuition, trips home or textbooks, because these costs are generally factored into financial aid packages.
“If you have a death in your family and you need to suddenly get home immediately, or you come to Bowdoin and you don’t have winter attire, or you want to take an LSAT course, we’re able to assist students with the cost of those expenses,” Foster said.
The College created the confidential electronic form last semester.
“We worked on the portal in the fall, which is now live and available. We rolled it out softly so we could test it and to make sure that it worked, and then we sent out the email last week,” Lohmann said.
The form asks identifying questions and inquiries whether the student recieves financial aid, has a job on- or off-campus and has received aid from the Office before. It also asks for details about the emergency circumstance and how much money the student requires.
Lohmann said it is important for the Office to know exactly how much aid students need.
“This is a really important piece,” she said. “We want to know the exact amount. It’s not, ‘I kind of need this.’ If students are going to request, we need to have a clear sense of the amount they are requesting and what it is for.”
The Office of Student Affairs will evaluate requests weekly. Students who need funds immediately are advised to talk with their dean.
Lohmann stressed that the greater purpose of the fund is to provide students with a sense of security in times of need.
“It’s not just about money,” Lohmann said. “There are many ways in which we are trying to give students a sense of belonging, a sense of identity, a sense of the fullest experience here. This is only a small slice of what that looks like, but it can help. That one step can defray something for a student—some anxiety, some sense of, ‘how am I going to do this?’ If we can help in that part, maybe the rest of it will also feel a little bit easier.”
Emily Cohen contributed to this report.