This week, we have compiled the most important stories from the decade pertaining to admissions and student aid, the environment, and the common good. We have pulled a selection of actual headlines from former issues, and condensed and synthesized stories relevant to each headline in order to showcase some of the most significant moments and enduring issues covered by the Orient. While our compilation is comprehensive, it is by no means complete. We encourage readers to pursue these headlines and others in our online archives, and to read our future installments of this series over the next several weeks.
Topics to come: College finances, Maine and Brunswick issues, and a look ahead.
Admissions fields new location, applicants, January 26, 2001
In February of 2001, the Office of Admissions was relocated to the building that formerly housed the College's Kappa Delta Theta chapter, after renovations to the building installed two additional stairways and air conditioning. Then-Vice President of Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Steele said that he appreciated how "a sense of history and the latest technology merged" in the new office. The Office of Admissions still occupies the former Kappa Delta Theta chapter, now renamed the Burton-Little House, today.
President Mills mulls College expansion, September 27, 2002
Early in his tenure as president of the College, President Barry Mills proposed that increasing enrollment to expand the student body by approximately 200 students was something "worth thinking about," and claimed that increasing the student body would "deepen and strengthen academic departments and the intellectual life of campus," according to a September 2002 Orient article. Mills added that expanding the College would increase the diversity of the student body, as well as attract more prospective students.
Though Mills said he believed the College could expand without compromising the intimate academic or social atmosphere, he added that he was aware of the logistics that would need to be considered, specifically those related to facilities, student housing, class size, and College finances.
The Board of Trustees agreed in 2006 to hit a target on-campus student body population of 1,700 by the 2008-2009 academic year, according to Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Katy Longley, the Orient reported in March 2006.
Mills said that growing the student body, which in March 2006 was 1,666 students—up from 1,635 students in the fall of 2001 when Mills was inaugurated—would allow for more students with different interests to attend Bowdoin.
Though Mills was enthusiastic about the prospect of expanding the student body, he agreed that capping expansion was necessary to ensure that Bowdoin could continue to "act like a small school."
Early decision will stay, May 3, 2002
Bowdoin's admissions office said it had no plans to eliminate Bowdoin's early decision application option, despite the national attention the University of North Carolina (UNC) received after announcing that they would no longer admit students through an early decision process. While administrators at Yale University had also recently pushed for Ivy League schools to cut early decision from their admission cycles, UNC was the first American university to cut an existing early admission program. UNC's decision to remove the option was motivated by concerns that "the program was hindering UNC's efforts to diversify and lowering its academic standards," according to a May 3, 2002 Orient article.
Mills said he did not believe Bowdoin's early decision option hindered the College's commitment to diversity or academic standards, stating that the admissions office had been able to "use early decision to build on our goals of making Bowdoin a more diverse place." Then-Dean of Admissions Jim Miller said that the socioeconomic patterns within early and regular admissions pools were not different.
Miller said that the increasingly "enormous pressure" on high school juniors and seniors to apply to college early was an issue that needed further consideration, but that he hoped "students who apply early here are doing so for the right reasons."
Both Harvard University and Princeton University eliminated their early admission programs starting in the fall of 2007, accepting all members of their incoming classes through a single admissions round with a January 1, 2008 deadline, according to a December 2007 Orient article. Then-Dean of Admissions William Shain said that Bowdoin did not intend to join the universities in eliminating early decision, defending the process so long as an admissions office does not "excessively fill the class early."
SAT I change won't affect Bowdoin, April 4, 2003
Despite significant revisions to the format and content of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT I), administrators said in the spring of 2003 that Bowdoin had no plans to change its policy of not requiring applicants to submit SAT scores.
The College Board's changes to the test became effective in March 2005, and included the addition of a writing section, more reading passages in the critical reading section of the test's verbal portion, and an expanded scope within the math section, with new questions covering material from Algebra II. Though Miller said the revisions made to the SAT were "pragmatic and principled," and meant to more accurately indicate a student's potential for success in college, he said that Bowdoin is "remarkably good at defining intellectual talent rather than simply relying on test scores to do that for us."
Merit-based scholarships questioned, May 7, 2004
The College's stated policy of providing student aid on the basis of economic need, rather than merit, was called into question in May 2004, when the Orient reported that Bowdoin had offered "100 stipends worth $3,000 to accepted students on the basis of 'talent' rather than financial need" during the two previous admissions cycles.
Mills said that the award program, known as the Faculty Scholars Program, was established in 2001 in response to "the competitive nature" of attracting students, and similar programs that had been developed at schools comparable to Bowdoin.
"I would prefer that we didn't have to do it, but the reality of the world is that we have to put ourselves in a position to compete for these students," said Mills.
Director of Financial Aid Stephen Joyce said in an e-mail to the Orient on Thursday that while the program still exists at the College, it is run through the admissions office and is not related to student financial aid.
"Because the funds are not awarded by our office and cannot be used to pay College expenses, I see this as separate from aid and more akin to summer stipends awarded by various Bowdoin departments and the McKeen Center," said Joyce.
First-year class most diverse yet, September 14, 2007
The admissions office saw trends in a variety of demographics over the course of the decade, especially with regard to background, gender, race and experience.
In 2001, a controversial report found that athletes at New England Small Colleges Athletic Conference (NESCAC) schools received an advantage in admissions despite lower test scores, and tended to rank in the bottom portions of their class. Following months of deliberation among NESCAC presidents, the College decided to enroll approximately 20 percent fewer rated athletes in the next incoming class, according to a December 7, 2001 Orient article. (For the full story, please see "Polar Bear athletics," a Decade in review installment from March 5, 2010).
A paper by Professor of Economics Jonathan Goldstein that examined the role of athletics and grade inflation at small, liberal arts colleges earned the author a letter of censure from Mills in April 2009, the Orient reported. In the paper, Goldstein had argued that an overemphasis on athletics at Bowdoin had adversely affected the academic mission of the school. The letter ended the eight-month-long dispute between College officials and the professor over the paper, which Goldstein had disseminated to prospective students in August of 2008.
Applications from foreign students declined mid-decade, according to a February 2005 Orient article that reported that 18 percent fewer foreign students applied to Bowdoin between the admission cycles for the Class of 2007 and the Class of 2009. Administrators cited numerous potential reasons for the recent decrease, including the increasingly difficult process of obtaining a student visa or work permit as well as the economic burden of studying internationally. One student added that the tendency of international students to rely on Web rankings when considering college and university options might lead students to overlook or dismiss Bowdoin.
At the time, the majority of international students were from Canada and East Asia, and the number of female students on campus from foreign countries had suffered a 25 percent decrease. Then-Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Miller said that post-September 11 mentality could be contributing to students remaining closer to home, adding that it was "a leap of faith for parents to allow their children to enter a world that may not be safe."
In response to the downturn in applications from international students, Miller said that the admissions office planned to spend time studying financial aid and application issues pertinent to foreign students, with the hopes of making Bowdoin more feasible and welcoming.
Following a New York Times article reporting the disparities between male and female enrollment, achievement, and involvement at colleges and universities, the Orient investigated whether national trends relating to gender were reflected at Bowdoin. While the Orient found that the degree of male or female involvement in campus life was "heavily dependent on the type of activity," an analysis of Bowdoin's Phi Beta Kappa records reflected "the national trend of greater female academic success." The degree of the trend as it related to current students, however, was unclear, as the College did not release information on grades to the Orient.
Trends in application and enrollment, however, conclusively mirrored the nationwide trend of more women than men applying to and enrolling in college. The incoming class of 2005 was "about 54 percent female," with 366 more women than men applying for admittance to the College, the Orient reported.
While Shain said he was not concerned over the minor imbalance between genders, "somewhere between 50-50 and dramatic imbalance there's a tipping point. I don't think we're there, but I think many liberal arts colleges are."
In an April 2007 Orient article detailing the demographics of the Class of 2011, Shain added that the College would not want to admit "less than 48 percent of either gender" due to the impact the imbalance would have on housing and academic programs. The Class of 2011 admitted 573 men and 532 women, and Shain emphasized that although "the percentage of men we admitted was higher, there wasn't a difference between the strength of the files."
According to the most recent figures from the Office of Institutional Research, the fall of 2009 saw a relatively balanced ratio between male and female students, with approximately 51 percent of the overall student body being female and 49 percent being male.
The admissions cycle for the Class of 2011 yielded the most ethnically diverse class in the College's history up to that point, according to an Orient article from September 2007. The percentage of minority students from the class of 2012—33 percent, according to a September 2008 Orient article—trumped the previous year's 30.3 percent. The percentage of minority students from the Class of 2013 was comparable to recent years, with 31 percent who are students of color.
Despite the College's significant dedication to admitting students with diverse backgrounds, a May 2005 Orient story reported that the admissions office had continued to honor legacy status when considering applications. According to Interim Dean of Admissions Steele, 51 percent of legacy applicants were admitted by May, versus 22 percent of students overall. For the Classes of 2008 and 2009, 50 and 60 percent of legacy applicants were admitted, respectively.
Steele said that the percentages could be misleading, as the office had established a policy of candid communication with legacy families about a candidates' prospect for admission, and as a result, "the legacies who actually choose to apply to Bowdoin tend to be very strong candidates for admission." For the nearly half of the legacy applicants that are not admitted, Steele added that calling legacy families with bad news is "one of the most difficult things" that his role required, and that he had made "quite a few of those painful calls" during the Class of 2010's admissions cycle.
Acceptance rate 'brutal' for Shain's first class, April 13, 2007
The selectivity of Bowdoin's admissions process continued to increase over the course of the decade, with the rate of acceptance dropping from 27.8 percent of applicants in the fall of 2000 to 19.4 percent by the fall of 2009, according to Bowdoin's Office of Institutional Research Web site. The number of students submitting applications to the College also shifted significantly, from 4,172 applicants for the Class of 2004 to 5,940 applicants for the Class of 2013.
Record-breaking numbers of applicants over the years went hand-in-hand with increased competition among applicants. In April of 2007, then-Dean of Admissions Shain said the acceptance rate for the Class of 2011, which stood at 18.5 percent overall with only 16 percent admitted in the regular round, was "brutal." In addition to a 10-percent increase in the number of applicants for 2011, the College admitted fewer students in order to keep the size of the first year class small, and to leave space for applicants on the wait list, according to Shain.
Need-blind a practice, not policy, September 28, 2007
A September 2007 investigation into the College's need-blind practices revealed that the College's official policy remained "non-committal, particularly toward international students." According to Joyce, while Bowdoin's goal is "to meet the full calculated need of all enrolled students," it cannot be guaranteed for students applying to the College from outside the U.S.
Joyce lamented the fact that competition among foreign students for the limited funds is intense, given that "a large portion of international applicants come from humble surroundings."
"It becomes a difficult question of whom you spend the resources on," Joyce added.
Professor of Religion and Asian Studies John Holt said that international students needed better representation among incoming classes, especially in light of the College's push for diversity among students.
"We are a national college," said Holt. "It is a question of whether we want to be more than that."
Bowdoin named 'School of the Year' in well- known student guide-book, April 4, 2008
Bowdoin fared well in college rankings over the course of the decade, beginning with its jump from ninth to sixth place overall among national liberal arts colleges in the U.S. News and World Report's annual college rankings in September of 2000. Administrators were pleased with Bowdoin's upward jump in rankings, and then-Dean of Admissions Steele noted that U.S. New's college ranking is a way of reaching students who otherwise might not have heard of Bowdoin. At the same time, however, Steele added that Bowdoin had "bent over backwards to make sure that basic educational policy is not shaped by the results of a survey that we know is imperfect."
In 2001, Bowdoin climbed one spot to fifth place in the U.S. News and World Report rankings, but in 2002 slipped back to the No. 7 spot. By September of 2003, Bowdoin had fallen to the No. 10 spot, earning low scores in the faculty resources category on account of the College's high "percentage of relatively young faculty" who had not yet received full professorships. In addition, Bowdoin's low endowment and high faculty ratio relative to comparable colleges contributed to the lower score.
In spite of a slip in overall rank in 2003, however, Bowdoin was named No. 1 for dining, had the fifth-best administration, and the eighth-best dorms out of all U.S. colleges.
Mills reminded U.S. News and World Report followers that "the criteria used to determine a college's ranking change each year," according to a September 2003 Orient article. While Mills said that the College "continually looks at issues related to class size, faculty resources, and endowment," he added that the College "can't make decisions that don't make sense" solely for the sake of incremental jumps in the rankings.
In April of 2008, guide book College Prowler named Bowdoin "School of the Year," identifying it as a school that goes "above and beyond the ordinary level of commitment" to providing the best undergraduate experience for its students. Mills said that it was "gratifying to know how strongly positive [students] feel about the College," though he stood by his sentiment that "there is no 'best' or 'No. 1' college in America."
Shain added that he was pleased that student experiences were taken into account, though he questioned the methodology of the competition.
"The four criteria they used are, of course, iffy, just as all criteria are," he said. "But they seem far better than those used by the U.S. News college issue since they relate more directly to what a student experiences."
While administrators regularly noted the use of rankings by prospective students and families, perhaps the most unconventional form of College advertising came in October of 2008 when "Grey's Anatomy" actor Patrick Dempsey wore a Bowdoin T-shirt in the opening scene of the show. The product placement was the result of the initiative sparked by Cole Harris '78 and a student petition that accumulated 450 signatures. With Bowdoin's appearance on the show, Dempsey's character, Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd, is assumed to be an alumnus of the College. Bowdoin apparel has been spotted in several subsequent episodes, including a recent episode on March 31, 2010.
Bowdoin to replace all loans with grants, January 25, 2008
The College announced in January of 2008 that it would replace all its loans with permanent grants beginning in the fall of 2008 "in an attempt to ease the amount of money students owe when the graduate," the Orient reported.
Joyce said that under the previous policy, borrowers from the Class of 2012 were projected to accumulate an "average of $21,000 in debt by the time they graduated." The new no-loans policy, however, eased this concern for students entering in the Class of 2012, and instead allocated permanent grants to cover the calculated need of all new students. In addition, under the no-loans policy, current students ceased to accrue further debt.
To accommodate the new policy, Joyce said that the College's financial aid budget would grow by $2.7 million for the coming year. Despite the significant financial burden of fulfilling the policy's promises, Mills said that he felt confident that the policy had not put the College at risk.
In 2008, Bowdoin had the second-smallest endowment among colleges that had eliminated loans, ahead of Colby College but behind Williams and Amherst Colleges. Despite this, analysis of the College's capital needs and projected endowment growth allowed administrators to determine that a no-loan policy was affordable, especially given Bowdoin's then-$828 million endowment that had doubled over the decade, and had generated a 24.4 percent return on investment in the fiscal year.
Shortly after the decade's end in February 2010, Williams announced plans to revoke its no-loan policy, citing a $500 million drop in its endowment, increasing financial aid expenditures, and unstable economic conditions. In response, Mills said that Bowdoin had no immediate plans to eliminate its own no-loan policy, and that any changes to the program would be considered with regard to economic conditions, rather than peer schools' decisions.
"There are a lot of good, principled reasons why we adopted the no-loan policy, and I think it would require good, principled reasons to abandon it," Mills said. "I think [a change] is going to have to be driven by a financial reality, and so I think at this point, it's too early to say."
Meiklejohn appointed dean of admissions, December 11, 2009
Over the course of the decade, the admissions office has seen four different deans of admissions, all of whom have been charged with increasing diversity within the student body, increasing Bowdoin's national profile, and continuing to bring the brightest students to Bowdoin out of an increasingly competitive applicant pool.
In June of 2001, then-Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Richard Steele retired from his post after 10 years at the College. In a letter to the College, then-President-elect Barry Mills announced that Jim Miller would succeed Steele, expressing his hopes that Miller would "be aggressive and imaginative in seeking talented students from diverse backgrounds, both in this country and around the world." When Miller departed the College in August of 2005, Mills informed the community that the percentage of students of color at Bowdoin had grown from "17 percent in the Class of 2005 to nearly 30 percent for the Class of 2009," according to a letter from Mills in July of 2005.
To fill Miller's place, former dean Steele agreed to return to admissions for the 2005-2006 academic year as the College conducted a nationwide search for a permanent replacement for the position. In February of 2006, the College announced that William Shain, then-dean of admissions at Vanderbilt University, had been named the new dean of admissions and financial aid beginning July 1, 2006.
While at the helm of the admissions office, Shain said his priorities were establishing an admissions process that treated people with decency despite being competitive, as well as continuing to attract the highest caliber of bright students, and enhancing the diversity of background and ethnicity within the student body, according to a September 15, 2006 Orient article.
After two years at the College Shain's departure from his position was announced in an e-mail on June 5 by Mills, the Orient reported. Shain said that while he had been pleased with the preceding year's admissions process, the departure of a senior associate dean of admissions had put increased pressure on the department. He also cited family health issues.
As he had with Miller, Mills praised Shain for "increasing diversity at the College" as well as raising the profile of the school, according to an Orient article in September 2008.
After Shain's departure in June of 2008, Scott Meiklejohn stepped in as interim dean of admissions. Meiklejohn had served at the College for 11 years prior to his 2008 appointment, most recently as vice president for planning and institutional development. After serving for 16 months as interim dean while the College conducted a nationwide search for a permanent successor, Meiklejohn was named permanent dean of admissions and financial aid in December of 2009.