Though students and families may be concerned with the future of financial aid given that college costs have increased by almost 40 percent over the past five years, the current presidential campaign has, for the most part, turned its focus elsewhere.
"I think education, and higher education in particular, is not high on anyone's list," said Director of Student Aid Stephen Joyce. "Realistically, it's not the most important national priority right now."
Although the issue is not at the forefront of either John McCain or Barack Obama's campaign, John McCain and Barack Obama both propose to tackle the staggering fees students face by changing the current financial aid system.
Accessibility is one of the problems applicants face. The current Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is long and complicated, and its complexity may deter some eligible students from applying for aid.
According to Joyce, Obama and McCain both propose simplifying the process.
"McCain proposes a simplified FAFSA, the consolidation of existing tax credits and federal grant programs, and better, clearer information for students and parents as they make college decisions," said Joyce. "Obama would also simplify the aid application process by eliminating the FAFSA and using a check box on the federal tax return to indicate an interest in aid."
Another issue students face when applying for financial aid is affordability, and according to Joyce, "both parties are quite concerned."
Given the rising costs of higher education, some families face difficulties when it comes to funding. Each of the candidates has proposed programs to alleviate the problem.
McCain's Web site states that he plans to consolidate financial aid programs in order to simplify the process for students and administrators. In addition, McCain supports loans from the private sector. Whether this support implies the reduction or elimination of grants or public loans is unclear.
Obama takes a different tack. In a speech given on November 11, 2007, Obama stated that he "will create a new and fully refundable tax credit worth $4,000 for tuition and fees every year, which will cover two-thirds of the tuition at the average public college or university."
Students who receive this credit will be required to perform 100 hours of public service a year.
Obama's Web site notes that because this plan, called the American Opportunity Tax Credit, is refundable, it will target the families who are most in need. However, Joyce pointed out that this credit will not affect people in the lowest income bracket who are not paying taxes.
In addition, tax credits on tuition sometimes end up paying for other expenses, especially in low-income families.
"A tax credit gives families more discretionary income, but it's never clear whether the money is really paying tuition or whether families have higher priorities like heating bills, mortgage payments, health insurance, or medical expenses," said Joyce.
The proposals laid out by Senators McCain and Obama are centered around one major problem: the growing cost of higher education.
In recent years, Bowdoin's total costs have risen by about five percent annually. Fees for the 2008-2009 academic year, which includes Tuition, Room and Board, and an Activities Fee, totals $48,570. This figure is close to the cost of many of Bowdoin's peer institutions.
Some argue that the escalating cost of college is not due to the actual needs of schools, but to the fact that people will pay for education, regardless of cost.
Joyce, however, is "convinced that [the latter is] not the case at Bowdoin and not many colleges are operating like that." Schools, he says, do not want to deter good students with high costs and are raising tuition mainly to cover their own expenses.
Major expenses at Bowdoin that contribute to the annual increase in tuition costs are the salaries of professors, faculty, and staff, rising oil and electricity bills, recent increases in the cost of paper, the necessity of having the latest technology, and, ironically, financial aid.
These expenses, Joyce said, make it difficult to cap Bowdoin's cost at the two or three percent per-year increase in the cost of living.