The job market in academia is notoriously cut-throat. Colleges vie for the best professors to teach students and draw research grants, while newly-minted Ph.D.s must fight tooth-and-nail for visiting professorships, let alone tenure-track positions. So when it comes to the benefits packages offered by schools, professors are not usually in a position of leverage. Bowdoin outpaces many of its peer schools with regard to faculty compensation, but tuition assistance for children of faculty and staff is not its strongest suit.
Bowdoin's tuition assistance for dependents of faculty and staff is determined by a formula that has been in place for more than a decade, according to Director of Human Resources Tama Spoerri.
The College provides a fixed sum per year that is recalibrated annually as Bowdoin's tuition increases. In fiscal year 2011-2012, Bowdoin granted $5,026 to every eligible student.
Tuition assistance goes to the children of Bowdoin faculty members attending accredited undergraduate educational programs. Any Bowdoin professor who has been employed by the College for seven continous years is eligible to recieve the benefit. In families where both parents work at Bowdoin, each parent can collect tuition assistance. There is no cap to how many children per family can receive the support.
While some schools have had to reevaluate their assistance policies in light of the economy, Bowdoin has been able to maintain its policy.
In comparison to other NESCAC colleges, Bowdoin's allotment is relatively minimal. Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd emphasized, however, that Bowdoin's scholarship does increase in step with the College's tuition, but "the initial amount was small."
At Williams College, full-time employees are eligible for tuition benefits after five years of employment. According to its human resources website, Williams pays either the tuition of the dependent's institution or half the tuition of Williams, whichever is less. Only four children per family may receive the benefit.
Middlebury gives increased discounts for faculty children enrolled at the school. Children of faculty who have worked at least four years there receive a 45 percent discount if they attend the college, but at other institutions Middlebury pays the lower of either 30 percent of the Middlebury comprehensive fee or half the tuition of the school.
Like Middlebury, Trinity College provides substantial benefits for faculty and staff dependents who choose to study at Trinity. Administrative staff employed by Trinity for five or more years pay half of the tuition price if their children attend Trinity, and children of full-time faculty likewise receive a 50 percent discount. However, the benefit does not apply if children of faculty and staff attend another institution.
Bates stands lower on the spectrum of NESCAC schools with regard to tuition assistance, contributing 10 percent of the Bates comprehensive fee to any institution attended by the children of its faculty and staff.
Professor Paul Franco of the government department has two children, one of whom is a current senior at Carleton College in Minnesota and receives Bowdoin tuition assistance. According to Franco, the benefit "didn't really play in, in terms of choosing places, but it was certainly welcome once she got in."
Professor Scott MacEachern of the anthropology department also has a child in college and expressed similar sentiments. MacEachern started teaching at Bowdoin when his daughter was two years old, and he has observed that "the resources available [for dependent scholarships] did not increase as tuition increased."
Nevertheless, MacEachern acknowledged that the College has finite resources that it has to allot amongst the faculty, and that many faculty are not eligible for that particular benefit. He added that particularly in these economic times "Bowdoin should be spending money on student financial aid," and not necessarily on expanding its tuition assistance program.
Each school's policy reflects administrative calculus on the most productive and fair way to allot benefits among large faculties with diverse needs. Unlike retirement and health insurance, tuition assistance packages do not apply to all faculty. Spoerri emphasized the importance of looking at the benefit as "just one piece of the pie."
Although the College has not made augmenting tuition assistance a priority, it does compensate faculty very well in other areas. For instance, Bowdoin has atypically generous retirement and parental leave policies. Dean Judd explained that Bowdoin "pays the full investment for retirement funds without requiring any contribution" for all College employees. She stressed that this is a benefit that faculty and staff collect "regardless of whether they have any kids or if they go to college."
Franco reiterated this, acknowledging his status as "an interested party" in the allotment of tuition assistance, while noting the reality of the "tough decisions that have to be made because there are other considerations for benefits."
"The dependent scholarship was designed as a way of making colleges and universities attractive places to work, but they originated in a different environment," said Dean Judd.
"We don't undervalue education," she stressed, but added that especially in these economic times shifting more money to the tuition scholarship would mean large sums being shuffled from other areas of the benefits budget.