Several of Bowdoin's peer schools have announced new plans to ease student debt in the face of rising tuition costs.

Colby College announced Monday that it will eliminate loans from all financial aid packages for students from Maine, replacing them with grants beginning next fall.

Two other NESCAC schools, Williams College and Wesleyan University, unveiled their own plans for reducing student debt last week. Williams announced it will replace all student loans with permanent grants, while Wesleyan committed to providing similar relief for students from low-income families.

Scott Hood, Bowdoin's vice president for communications, said that while the College is constantly exploring ways to make a Bowdoin education more affordable, it is not planning to announce any immediate changes in student aid policy.

"I don't think we would make the decision in response to anyone else," he said. "I think any decision would have to be based on what's best for Bowdoin."

Hood said he expects that the Trustees will discuss the College's student aid practices at their February retreat.

William Shain, Bowdoin's dean of admissions and financial aid, reiterated that Bowdoin does not intend to change policy quickly in reaction to announcements from peer colleges.

"Each of those three schools did something different, and there is no reason why we would automatically copy any one of them," Shain said. "Because policy changes are important, potentially expensive, and likely to be long-term, it is not appropriate to consider this in terms of potential applications to Bowdoin, but rather, how best to serve Bowdoin families," he said.

By replacing loans with grants for Maine students, Colby said it aims to increase the population of Maine natives from 10 percent of the student body to about 12 or 13 percent.

At Bowdoin, Mainers already make up 12.1 percent of students. Stephen Joyce, Bowdoin's director of student aid, said that while he thinks Colby's move will benefit a lot of Maine families, he remains wary of implementing policies that systematically favor local students.

"It creates an equity issue," he said. "You are treating students in the same financial circumstances differently."

Joyce said he thinks Williams's strategy?replacing all students' loans with grants?is a more equitable reform. But Williams's resources, he pointed out, give it more flexibility in this area: its endowment stands at $1.89 billion, twice as large as Bowdoin's ($828 million) and three time larger than Colby's ($599 million).

"I don't think we need to match Colby," Joyce said. "I do think that if we address student aid more broadly, it will address broader issues, including those most important to Maine families."

While the 12.1 percent of the Bowdoin student body that represents native Mainers receives 17 percent of the College's total aid disbursement, Joyce said there is nothing built into Bowdoin's financial aid system that favors in-state students. Maine families do, however, generally need more assistance: 62 percent of all Maine students receive financial aid, compared to 41 percent of all students.

Aisha Woodward '08 said she is glad to see "private institutions in the state making an effort to be sensitive to the unique dynamics in Maine." Woodward, a native of Sedgwick, Maine, has spent the last year studying those dynamics for the Maine Compact for Higher Education?a state-sponsored project?and the Sen. George J. Mitchell Scholarship Research Institute, a Portland-based organization founded by Bowdoin alumnus George J. Mitchell '54.

Maine students face significant barriers that can stand in the way of a college education, Woodward said. One of those barriers is "sticker shock" at the daunting expense associated with colleges like Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby, whose price tags exceed $40,000 per year.

"Replacing loans with grant money might alleviate some of the anxiety students and their families possess in the college application process," she wrote in an e-mail.

Woodward said that despite Colby's goal of increasing local enrollment, she is skeptical that the move will actually affect the composition of its student body.

"The types of students who are qualified to attend schools like Colby are not necessarily the ones who are being prohibited from attending college because of finances," she wrote. "The greater issue is that there are many, many more students who are not applying to schools at all and/or are not educated about financial aid processes/availability."

Nate Lovitz '08, who has also researched the obstacles of college-bound Mainers for the Mitchell Institute, said he hopes Colby's new policy?which is being partially funded by a gift from alumnus and Board of Trustees Chairman Joseph F. Boulos?could inspire similarly philanthropic-minded Bowdoin alumni.

"The fact that the money is mostly being donated by Colby grads is something that is excellent," Lovitz wrote in an e-mail. "I'm sure that there are enough successful Bowdoin grads that the same sort of program could take shape.

"If a program like this was in place I think we would see a lot of families who might not look at Bowdoin give it some thought," he added.

Many Bowdoin alumni have already contributed to financial aid by giving to the current Bowdoin Campaign, which aims to raise over $60 million for aid alone.

Joyce said the capital campaign represents a financial aid reform in itself, because it seeks to increase the percentage of the financial aid budget that comes directly from the endowment. While this does not increase the amount of money Bowdoin spends on financial aid annually, he said it is the "best way to ensure the future" of aid at Bowdoin.