In his 1972 hit ?School?s Out,? rocker Alice Cooper articulated the catharsis that grips students each spring when they wave goodbye to the various undesirable aspects of school. For college graduates, however, it is often more complicated: While many might leave behind ?pencils, books, and teachers? dirty looks,? debt from increasingly large student loans tends to stalk them into adulthood.
Concurrent with tuition costs, student debt at Bowdoin has been increasing precipitously. Borrowers from last year?s graduating class incurred an average debt of $18,300, up from $14,682 for the Class of 2001, according to the Office of Institutional Research. That?s a big jump for six short years. While we do not have data evidencing a correlation between Bowdoin graduates? debt and their choices of major or career, it is at least conceivable that debt burden might have precluded some students from pursuing a preferred area of study or career in favor of one that promised good, stable pay.
But now this point is largely moot. The Trustees approved a plan last week that would replace all college loans with permanent grants, easing debt significantly for future generations of Bowdoin students and capping debt where it stands for current students. In order to accommodate the policy change, the financial aid budget has been increased so that funds won?t be siphoned away from the neediest students.
This is a commendable move. In September, this page recommended that the College make need-blind admissions a firm policy?rather than a practice that is renewed each year?to demonstrate its long-term commitment to ensuring access. In many ways this no-loans policy is an even stronger commitment because it makes sure lower- and middle-income students are not overburdened by loan-heavy aid packages once they get in?which is at least as important as letting them in in the first place.
Pending the indefinite continuance of its need-blind practice, Bowdoin?s financial aid program?given the relative size of its endowment?is now among one of the most generous in the country. For this, the College deserves a great deal of credit.
There is little doubt that Bowdoin?s decision?and similar moves made by peer colleges?reflect not only altruism but strategy. Williams and Amherst announced new no-loans policies last fall, and Colby announced its own no-loans policy almost immediately after Bowdoin did. The ?arms race? among elite liberal arts colleges often prompts schools to match each other?s moves if possible, because they continue to compete for the same talent pool year after year.
We laud all of these institutions and their leaders for aiming their competitive energies at affordability rather than ostentatious excesses. But while we hope the trend of student debt relief seeps into the larger sphere of colleges and universities, we also hope that it does not prompt schools to install similar programs without increasing their aid budgets. Colleges that reduce debt burden for the many by draining the budget for lower-income applicants may maintain a competitive edge over their more prudent peers, but they deserve little more than dirty looks.
The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which comprises Steve Kolowich, Anne Riley, Anna Karass, Adam Kommel, Mary Helen Miller, Cati Mitchell, and Joshua Miller.