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Orient should further investigate causes of student debt at Bowdoin

September 21, 2018

This piece represents the opinion of the author.

Dear Editor,


I write in response to your editorial last week, “Full need, some loans.” One conclusion you reach is that Bowdoin does not meet the full financial need of students. Your evidence is that 26 percent of surveyed first-years have taken out loans to pay for college.

This argument requires the assumption that students only take out loans if Bowdoin does not meet their demonstrated financial need. I do not think you have enough evidence to make this assumption. People and institutions with high incomes or large savings often borrow money to make expensive purchases, even if they have sufficient liquid resources to pay in cash.

For example, families with incomes in the top 20 percent of American wage-earners ($110,000 or more, an amount earned by 70 percent of Bowdoin families) will often borrow to buy cars. Rather than spend their savings or exhaust much of their income at once, they may take out a mortgage or other forms of debt to pay back tuition over a more manageable time frame.

Similarly, many institutions with significant financial reserves and revenues—including Bowdoin, the Town of Brunswick and Google—will borrow for any number of reasons, including spreading the cost of a purchase (e.g. classroom renovations, a garbage truck or computer hardware) over a longer period of time.

It is surely possible, even likely, that Bowdoin failed to meet the needs of some portion of the 26 percent of first-years who have taken out loans. However, it is also likely that many of those first years come from wealthier families. Debt is a strategic financial planning tool: the mere existence of a student loan or debt obligation does not mean the College failed to meet the financial needs of a student and their family.

The Orient should conduct more research before asserting that Bowdoin is failing so many students.



Samuel Lewis, Class of 2019


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