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Bowdoin College in Maine will limit students on campus to mostly freshmen

As colleges weigh how to open for undergraduate education in the fall, Bowdoin’s plan is among the most strict among private colleges in limiting the number of students coming to campus.
As colleges weigh how to open for undergraduate education in the fall, Bowdoin’s plan is among the most strict among private colleges in limiting the number of students coming to campus.Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

This fall, Bowdoin College will mainly allow only freshmen to be on campus and will sit out varsity sports for the the fall and winter, a signal that even small colleges in more remote parts of New England are worried about their ability to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

As colleges weigh how to open for undergraduate education in the fall, Bowdoin’s plan is among the most strict among private colleges in limiting the number of students coming to campus. Some community colleges in Massachusetts and the California state university system have announced that all their classes will be online. On Monday, the University of Massachusetts Boston announced that it would rely primarily on remote teaching and learning in the fall.

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But many institutions have said they plan to bring most students back and are starting the fall semester early and ending by Thanksgiving to avoid the active flu season.

Bowdoin announced on Monday that first-year and transfer students, those whose home lives make it impossible to learn remotely, students who work in residential life, and a small group of senior honors students will be allowed to come to campus this fall. Even then, many of the classes on campus will be taught online. Bowdoin said it expects first-year and transfer students to learn remotely in the spring as it aims to bring upper-level students back to campus then.

Most sophomores, juniors, and seniors will take online classes, which the college said it is working to develop. Bowdoin, which is a member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, has also decided against participating in fall and winter varsity sports.

Bowdoin President Clayton Rose acknowledged that many would be disappointed by the plan, but he said there was too much uncertainty about the virus, the ability of colleges and universities to limit its spread on a campus, and populations with many different health concerns.

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“Those who are younger and in good health have limited chance of serious consequences or death from COVID-19, although there is that risk, but those over sixty-five and/or with preexisting health conditions are significantly more at risk for severe illness or death,” Rose wrote in a letter to the Bowdoin community. “I have come to the difficult conclusion that it would be too risky to permit a densely packed environment with everyone back on campus. We are not only protecting the health and safety of students with these plans, we are, critically, also protecting our faculty and staff — especially our dining service workers, facilities staff, and security staff, all of whom have close day-to-day interaction with students. And we are also protecting our neighbors in Brunswick.”

Bowdoin is a 1,835-student private college in coastal Maine. Its decision is likely to be watched by many other small, private colleges in New England.

Bowdoin is a wealthy college with an endowment of $1.7 billion, but Rose warned that the upcoming academic year is likely to be financially challenging.

“We will have a substantial budget deficit this next year, likely the largest we have ever had by a significant margin,” Rose said in his letter. “Bowdoin is fortunate to have strong financial resources to cover much of the deficit, but we will also have to implement several cost-cutting measures for the coming academic year, with those making the most contributing the most.”

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The college has no plans to furlough workers, but most salaries will be frozen, senior administrators will see their salaries reduced, and the college is reducing its retirement contributions to all employees by 50 percent. Bowdoin will keep its commitment to increase the minimum hourly wage to $14, Rose said.

For many smaller colleges with less of a financial cushion than Bowdoin, the next academic year could be far more dire, higher education experts have said.

Many of them risk losing much needed room and board revenue from students if they cut back on how many students can live on campus. For example, all of Bowdoin’s dormitories will be single occupancy in the fall and the college said it will not increase the comprehensive fee and tuition for the fall.

At Bowdoin, on-campus students will pay a total of $33,935 for the fall semester, while those who are off-campus will only pay the tuition costs of $27,911.

Rose said he hopes to have seniors, juniors, and sophomores return to campus for the spring semester and athletes can participate in varsity sports in some form after Jan. 1.

Also Monday, Middlebury College in Vermont announced that it expects about a third of its courses to be offered online this fall. Students will start on Sept. 8 and end in-person classes before Thanksgiving with no October break.

Students returning to campus in the fall will be expected to quarantine for two weeks before their arrival and will be tested when they get to campus. Only one person will be allowed to drop off each student on campus this fall and won’t be able to help with move-in duties, since only students will be allowed into the residence halls, Laurie Patton, Middlebury’s president announced in a message to the community.

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Middlebury has yet to decide on fall sports and extracurricular activities.


Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.