NESCACs debate finances

Across the NESCAC, campuses have been debating the benefits and drawbacks of divestment. Most recently, Middlebury’s campus has been abuzz following multiple op-eds in The Middlebury Campus centered on the issue of divestment. Closer to home, newly inaugurated President Clayton S. Rose announced that Bowdoin’s comprehensive tuition fee will be $61,354, surpassing $60,000 for the first time in the history of the College.

Middlebury College recently announced that its endowment grew to $1.10 billion. The College utilizes a small investment firm, Investure, as its endowment manager. In an August 2013 press release, the most recent official announcement from the College on the issue, Middlebury President Ronald D. Liebowitz stated that between three and five percent of the endowment is invested in fossil fuels. In the same statement, Liebowitz commented: “Given [The Board of Trustees’] fiduciary responsibilities, the board cannot look past the lack of proven alternative investment models, the difficulty and material cost of withdrawing from a complex portfolio of investments, and the uncertainties and risks that divestment would create.”

Middlebury, unlike Colby, utilizes an investment manager independent of the College. Investure selects fund managers and allocates the Middlebury endowment appropriately. The largest barrier to divestment is that Investure, as a manager of additional non-profit endowments, “would have to reinvest more than half of its portfolio. And it would have to gain the agreement of the other 12 institutions it represents to do so,” according to the College statement.

Recently, the Echo reported that Colby does not currently hold any direct investments in firms listed on the Carbon Underground 200, an index of the top 200 dirtiest publicly traded oil and coal companies; however, the policy surrounding divestment of direct investments had yet to change. The Colby Alliance for Renewable Energy has been leading the push for divestment here on campus. Much of the argument against divestment by various administrations has centered around the effect that divestment can have on endowment returns, the primary provision for financial aid.

Bowdoin, like Colby, is committed to providing access to education for students of all backgrounds and financial situations. Both are committed to providing grants in place of loans and meet 100% of demonstrated financial need. Despite these programs devoted to increasing accessibility, the meteoric rise of tuition costs at elite liberal arts schools such as Colby and Bowdoin have turned many students away in fear. Both schools have focused much of their admissions rhetoric around their financial aid programs to reassure prospective students and parents that are discouraged by the sticker price. According to an article published in The Bowdoin Orient, the Bowdoin comprehensive fee has doubled in the last 20 years. The announcement of the increased fee came shortly after President Rose was inaugurated.

At Colby, President David A. Greene notified parents of an increase in the comprehensive fee in March of 2015. The fee rose to $61,730, an increase of $630 or roughly a 1% increase. Although the increase could be considered nominal, Provost and Dean of Students Lori Kletzer commented in an interview with the Portland Press Herald that 60% of students at Colby do not require financial aid and are full paying students. This means that the $630 increase represents an additional $715,050 paid to the college to cover the cost of education.

At Bowdoin, an analysis of the Common Data set found that 55% of students are full-paying students. Prior to the increase, the comprehensive fee at Bowdoin was set at $57,834, representing a 6% increase in the cost. The new fee will garner an additional $3,509,440 for the College from full paying students.

At the same time that conversations of tuition increases make reference to socioeconomic class, so did more disturbing events on Bowdoin’s campus last week. According to the Bangor Daily News, several members of the school’s sailing team have come under fire for a “gangster” themed party, in which attendees dressed in “baggy clothing, gold chains and cornrows.” Both other students and the Administration have spoken out against the demeaning actions of those students who attended the party.