In this issue’s story about Bates admissions, you will learn, among other things, that we have nine applicants for every one place in the Class of 2009. Given the depth of the applicant pool, we could fill the entering class with only those students whose families can afford the comprehensive fee of $42,100. Yet despite our smaller endowment and leaner budget, Bates spends as much or more on financial aid and aids just about as many students — about 39 percent of our student body — as do our wealthier peers.
Why are we so committed to our policy of meeting the full demonstrated need of all admitted students? Why, given the other pressing needs of the College, do we seek $45 million in new scholarship endowment as part of the $120 million Campaign for Bates? And why do I tell you that the ability to provide this kind of access will be increasingly important to the most highly selective colleges?
The answers invoke both educational and ethical principles. Learning at Bates must be animated with the complexity that comes from bringing together the brightest and most ambitious students from the most varied backgrounds and social groups possible. Our future leaders and problem-solvers must emerge from every strata of our society and must learn to collaborate with people from vastly different cultures and perspectives. And we still strive toward the urgent ethical vision that inspired the founders of this country and the founders of Bates: a world where overcoming economic hardship is not only possible but a source of pride, and where education is open to all, not limited by accidents of birth to the privileged.
To put flesh on these ideals and learn more about what financial aid means to Bates students today, I visited with Leigh Campbell ’64, associate director of Student Financial Services. Leigh told me how Bates scholarship assistance enabled him to graduate. Then, he shared his deep worries that future generations will not have the same opportunities that he and thousands of others enjoyed.
Like many of us, he is increasingly concerned by cuts and freezes to state and federal grant programs, and he is troubled by the growing private debt that many students and families incur to fund their education. With budgets already strained, institutions like Bates will only feel more pressure to find and provide enough financial aid to attract and retain the best students.
Leigh has been at Bates since 1973, when Milt Lindholm ’35 appointed him to the staff. When I asked why he has devoted his career to helping students and their families afford Bates, he handed me some of the questionnaires that students with named scholarship funds complete each year.
In these questionnaires, these students tell of their summer and academic year jobs as construction workers and waitresses and nannies, carpenters and lifeguards and stair-sweepers and telephone solicitors and salesclerks. As Bates students, they are Dana scholars and Deansmen; they find time to write an honors thesis, to do research with a faculty member, to tutor and travel abroad (assisted by the Bates scholarships that travel with them), to play in the orchestra or put on a show or compete on a varsity, intramural, or club team.
The words they use to talk about their experiences at Bates echo what we hear from all students: challenge, opportunity, passion, friendship, research, discovery, growth. Perhaps an excerpt from one student’s recent thank-you letter to a scholarship donor can speak for all:
I am the first person to go to college in my family and you have no idea what that means to me. As a child I dreamt about attending college and up until a year ago it remained a fantasy. Thanks to you, I am living my dream….
Off campus, I have also been privileged to learn how many Bates alumni, parents, and friends share our commitment to helping more talented young people live their dreams. On the campaign trail, we asked those of you who attended our launch events to share your hopes for Bates. In cities from coast to coast, you told us that you too believe that resources to support financial aid are critical. As one Bates alum wrote, “I hope that people from all backgrounds and experience can have a chance to feel the magic that I’ve felt here.”
Let me close with my own hope for Bates regarding financial aid: On my watch, I hope Bates will continue to develop the philanthropic strength we need to continue and expand our commitment to Oren Cheney’s dream of an open, inclusive college. With your help and support, together we can
make this possible.