After 14 years in office, President Mills helped raise $60 million in his final year at the College through his Access, Opportunity and Innovation (AOI) initiative. The initiative, which was announced at Bowdoin’s annual Scholarship Appreciation Luncheon on May 8, 2014, focused on raising money for the Coastal Studies Center, Digital and Computational Studies and most prominently, need-based financial aid. 

In his speech, President Mills set a fundraising goal of $100 million for the initiative. While that goal was not reached, President Mills raised $60 million in his last year in office, directed specifically towards AOI, according to Senior Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Rick Ganong ’86. This figure does not include alumni donations to the Annual Fund, which attained a participation rate of 61.6 percent last year, dually the highest in Bowdoin history and the first time the number has exceeded 60 percent. The participation rate has climbed by 7.4 percentage points since 2010, when 54 percent of alumni donated. 

Financial aid expansion has long been a top priority for Mills. Mills himself received financial aid as a student at the College, and in 2008, under his direction, Bowdoin announced the elimination of all student loans, replacing them with grants. 

President Mills told the Orient in April of 2015, “If you want to think about the common good—the idea that you are creating opportunity for a student who wouldn’t have it otherwise—is hugely important to me.”

 The combination of Mills’ commitment to keeping Bowdoin affordable and the ever-rising costs of a Bowdoin education provided the impetus for the launch of AOI, Mills’ largest initiative during his last year in office. The price of the average grant given by Bowdoin has risen steadily in the past few years, and is now just under $40,000 for the Class of 2019, according to Ganong. Meanwhile, the percentage of students receiving aid has hovered around 45 percent for the last five years, leading to an uptick in money needed to continue the policy of need-blind admissions.

 Gifts to the fund came from numerous and diverse sources, with multiple seven-figure pledges, but there was one common thread: many gave in honor of President Mills and his wife, Karen. 

 “I think the most touching gift was the faculty raised over $100,000 for the Barry and Karen Mills scholarship fund. We have a small faculty and you don’t always see faculty in higher-ed support a president like that. He was special,” Ganong said.

 Of Bowdoin’s endowment, which numbers $1.4 billion, around $600 million is dedicated to financial aid. Bowdoin’s draw on the endowment is five percent every year, so in practice, the college has around $30 million to spend on financial aid every year directly from the endowment. In recent years, this number has been supplemented by other fundraising – this academic year, the college is spending about $34 million on aid.

 President Mills was able to raise $60 million from AOI, money that moves into the financial aid portion of the endowment, but it is important to note that a significant share of that money was pledged, not directly given. This is common practice in large-scale fundraising, and simply means that the money is spread over multiple years, and will be paid as such.

While this $60 million is certainly a boon for the college’s financial aid program, Bowdoin is far from done raising money to continue to make education affordable. President Rose will be tasked with continuing to fundraise on Bowdoin’s behalf, and Ganong says the College plans to launch a large-scale campaign in the next few years.

 The development office and the President are not just raising money for the sake of the endowment. They hope to build towards an increasingly diverse and global Bowdoin.
“Look at this: represented countries: Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Honduras, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Pakistan, Rwanda, Turkey, Vietnam,” said Ganong, “We want the best, smartest, nicest, more engaging, active kid from Turkey or Rwanda to come to Bowdoin and just light up our campus. And if she can’t afford it, I work with people in this building to make sure we have the funds in place so she can.”