With only a week left before the anticipated release of Early Decision I (ED I) offers, the Office of Student Aid has begun evaluating financial aid requests for the incoming Class of 2015.
For almost two decades, Bowdoin has adhered to a need-blind admissions practice. In January 2008, the College restructured its financial aid practices by replacing all loans with grants. Currently, the College is in the early stages of complying with the Higher Education Opportunity Act. The act includes a measure that aims to realistically inform prospective students of what their college costs might amount to.
Despite the recession, senior administrators are committed to continuing both of these policies for the foreseeable future.
"Our instructions are still to admit the class need-blind and award aid on a no-loans basis, and it's really important for us that we continue to do that," said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Scott Meiklejohn. "I'm very happy about that and I know President Mills is very committed to that and so far we've weathered some bumps without making changes to aid."
According to Director of Student Aid Steve Joyce, approximately 42 percent of the student body is on Bowdoin grant aid. This figure does not account for all students receiving assistance to finance their education.
"Any student can take a loan," from the government, a bank or credit union, said Joyce.
"Ideally we would like students to be leaving Bowdoin with as little debt as possible, but there are lots of reasons why families would choose to borrow," he said.
All students applying for aid are required to fill out both the College Scholarship Service (CSS) and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms. The Student Aid Office then inputs that data to a metric that determines how much a family can afford to pay for college.
The metric primarily weighs "family income, family assets, family size and number of children in undergraduate college," according to Joyce.
The College then subtracts the sum it estimates the family can pay from the tuition. Joyce explained the College then designs a package of work-study or College employment and grant money to compensate for the difference.
The work-study contribution is around $1,900 annually, which amounts to eight to 10 hours a week, assuming a wage of $7.50 to $8 an hour.
However, if students have been awarded federal grants or have taken out federal loans, the calculations and guidelines change. If federal money is involved, the College is required to use the federally-outlined need analysis instead of its own metric. The provision is intended to maintain an equal playing field for all students who receive federal aid.
The federal estimate will not always be congruent with what Bowdoin deems a family can pay. However, if a student is receiving federal assistance, the College has to hold the family responsible for the amount the government estimates it can afford to pay.
"Federal rules say you can't have more resources [available to subsidize college], which would include the family's contribution and all of the financial aid, than it costs to go to college," said Joyce.
Using similar criteria to those of the Bowdoin metric, the FAFSA formula estimates how much a family can contribute to the cost of college.
The disparity between family contribution and tuition is first filled by federal grants or loans, any outstanding sum is covered by Bowdoin.
At this point in time, the College is in the preliminary phases of complying with the Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed in August 2008.
The law reauthorized the Higher Education Act of 1965 with some amendments, notably the requirement that institutions which receive federal financial aid funds post net price calculators on their websites by the end of October 2011.
The law represents "a big push for transparency so families would know before the bill ever came, before they looked at colleges, how much it would cost," said Joyce.
"Basically, what Congress has said is colleges need to have a way for parents to estimate what their out of pocket costs would be."
The rule creates a dilemma for institutions of higher learning that are wary of the unreliability of such calculators. To produce truly accurate estimates, families would have to input extensive data. This task could overwhelm prospective students and ultimately discourage them from applying.
Although simpler programs would be more user friendly, they would lack the nuanced data and therefore not yield the best approximations.
While Bowdoin has yet to design the financial aid calculator stipulated by the act, Meiklejohn explained that the College is planning to design a calculator that will "give people a relatively accurate idea" of the cost. He added, however, that the estimates of any financial aid calculator are likely to be inexact.