BRUNSWICK — Facing a projected 20 percent decline in its endowment this year, Bowdoin College could institute a two-year salary freeze on most faculty and staff while increasing enrollment by 50 students over the next five years.
Both measures are part of a proposal by college President Barry Mills, who last week announced the recommendations as a means of countering “serious budget shortfalls” in Bowdoin’s coming budget cycles.
In a statement dated Jan. 22, Mills first offered reassurances that Bowdoin is in good financial condition.
“Bowdoin, however, like all other colleges and universities is not immune to current economic conditions,” Mills wrote, “and must make some difficult choices to remain secure financially.”
Among those choices is a two-year salary freeze on faculty and most staff positions. Mills said 60 percent of Bowdoin’s operating costs are generated by employee salaries and benefits. He said other institutions wealthier than Bowdoin have taken similar steps, adding that Bowdoin’s burden should be shouldered by the entire college community.
Mills said the recommendations are designed to give Bowdoin budget surpluses in its current fiscal year, as well as the next two to three budget years.
Mills also acknowledged faculty concerns that the freeze would be a precursor to future layoffs. He made no assurances against the possibility of layoffs, but said that holding the line on salaries is meant to avert the threat.
“I am very concerned about avoiding layoffs wherever possible so I (and I believe the rest of the community) would prefer to keep people working at their jobs and retain programs in lieu of salary increases,” he wrote.
“Moreover, it is my strongly held view that it is important for the strength of our community that faculty and staff share these burdens equitably across our campus,” he added.
Also among Mills’ recommendations is a re-evaluation of vacant staff positions to determine if they should be filled.
Mills also stressed the need to flat-fund Bowdoin’s operating costs, adding that supplies, meals, equipment and travel expenses might need to be reduced. He added that all discretionary staff spending on travel and professional development should be reduced to “a minimum or eliminated.”
Mills tempered the announcement by reassuring students that Bowdoin still plans to proceed with a new initiative to eliminate student loans in favor of grants. The grant program, used by many of the nation’s top colleges and universities, was introduced last year.
Mills also recommended continuing Bowdoin’s major maintenance program on its current facilities. However, major capital projects not funded by gifts or grants should be put on hold, he said. That recommendation does not include the college’s new Fitness, Health and Wellness Center, which is already under construction.
To increase revenues Mills proposed growing Bowdoin’s student body by 10 students per year over the next five years. Mills said tuition and fees are Bowdoin’s top revenue source, while its endowment is second.
Some Brunswick residents have previously expressed concern about Bowdoin’s growth, particularly when the college was applying for a public benefit conveyance of more than 175 acres of property at Brunswick Naval Air Station. Some of them worried about the impact of Bowdoin’s expansion on the neighboring community.
But Mills said his proposed enrollment increases could be curtailed if the economy rebounds. He said the student body growth should also allow Bowdoin to continue its need-blind admissions policy.
Mills said his recommendations were influenced by a committee of staff, students and financial experts created to address Bowdoin’s projected decline in endowment.
Last month, Mills projected a 17 percent decline for the year ending June 30, 2009.
Bowdoin’s endowment falloff is in line with private colleges across the country. Dartmouth College and Stanford University are slicing budgets after experiencing significant investment losses. Princeton University and Cornell University have both announced hiring freezes. Harvard University is also reportedly contemplating budget reductions after its endowment suffered a loss of $8 million, or 22 percent. And, closer to home, St. Joseph’s College in Standish on Tuesday announced $1 million in budget cuts, including the elimination of 14 jobs.
Despite the endowment drop-off, Mills said he believes Bowdoin will reach the $250 million target set by its Bowdoin Capital Campaign. As of Dec. 31, 2008, the campaign had received $243 million.
“The challenges we face are no different from all other colleges and universities in America,” Mills said.