In an era of unprecedented student loan debt, Bates has stepped up with an unprecedented financial aid budget.

According to Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Leigh Weisenburger, 48% of the incoming class this year received an average financial aid award of over $38,000.

School-wide, President Spencer said in her fall community newsletter that 47% of Batesies received financial aid awards, with the average package weighing in at over $35,000. All accounted for, this year’s budget of just over $30 million tops last year’s by 5.6%, making it the largest in the College’s history. 

The financial aid budget is composed both of endowment money and the school’s operating budget, which consists of money from fundraisers, tuition, other revenue-raising events, as well as other endowment money, according to Weisenburger, who added that this budget structure is customary among other colleges.

Last year, a little over 16% of the financial aid budget was drawn from the endowment, with the remainder coming out of the operating budget. This year, says Weisenburger, the Office is aiming to reduce the portion of endowment money to about 10% while increasing the operating budget money up to 90%.

Spencer also noted in her newsletter that Bates’ financial aid is “largely composed of outright grants,” enabling Bates graduates to escape with an average debt burden of $17,000 compared to the national average, which is about $10,000 higher.

In fact, according to Wendy Glass, Director of Student Financial Services, federal grants this year accounted for just $2.7 million of total student aid, compared to the $30 million institutional aid. Unlike student loans, says Weisenburger, grants do not have to be paid back.

The annual financial aid budget is devoted to the financial needs of all four grade levels, and is planned carefully in advance. While Glass and the office are still packaging some entering students, they say they expect to spend almost all of this year’s awards.

“It’s not a policy to spend the entire budget,” said Weisenbruger, “but it behooves us to. Given our goal of diversity, it would go against our philosophy of providing access and opportunity if we had millions of dollars to provide for a Bates education but did not spend it fully.”

In her newsletter this fall, President Spencer also drew a link between the school’s financial aid policies and its values of “opportunity and excellence,” adding that the “college’s generous program of financial aid will always top the list of fundraising priorities, and the Board of Trustees is firmly behind these efforts.”

Looking ahead, Weisenburger said that she and the Admissions staff remain committed to providing qualified students of all backgrounds with a Bates education. To that end, the Financial Aid Office merged with the Office of Admissions two years ago, allowing for “better coordination” between the two, says Glass.

“Prior to the merger, we always worked closely for sure, hand-in-hand, with admissions in order to meet our goals of enrolling students,” said Weisenburger. Now that admissions and financial aid have merged, Weisenburger hopes the two offices can better “strategically plan to meet all those goals” over the long haul.

More specifically, she says that the office will continue to provide “a personalized approach to our work with students and families,” noting that this personal element is critical in allowing families to “determine how they may best afford and finance a Bates education.”