LEWISTON — Bates College is hiking the single fee it charges students for tuition, housing and meals more than it has in 16 years.

The college is charging students $85,370 apiece for the 2024-25 academic year, a 5% increase over this year’s rate.

But that figure, which is higher than most families earn in Androscoggin County, isn’t quite what it seems.

About half of the 1,800 students at Bates receive financial aid, with the average need-based grant during the past year totaling $62,061, according to the college, which says it is committed to ensuring every student it admits can afford to attend.

The cost of attending Bates College has been rising steadily for years, but the latest fee hike is the largest since 2009. Steve Collins/Sun Journal

That means many students wind up paying less than they would to attend a public university. The average federal student loan debt for Bates students who earned their degree in 2022, for example, was $13,531, less than half the national average.

Only well-to-do families are expected to pay the full fee for students to attend Bates. The poorest families are not asked to pay much.


“Providing a highly-personalized residential liberal arts education with what is among the lowest student faculty ratios in the country is an inherently expensive endeavor,” Bates officials said Thursday in response to a question about the increase.

The increase in the coming school year marks the first increase of more than 4% since 2009. Every year from 2010 through 2023, the fee increased between 3% and 4%.

Bates said it is seeking a higher percentage increase because of rising expenses.

“While inflation has moderated from last year, we continue to see increases in costs in many of the non-personnel expenses in our budget, including energy and food,” it said.

It pointed out that faculty and staff “make up 60% of the college’s annual expenses and are a vital part of our ability to deliver a transformative experience to our students.” And paying them is growing more costly.

“As with other Maine employers, Bates is affected by the increase in the minimum wage, the changing exempt threshold, and the rising cost of employee health care,” the college said.


Bates pointed out that its peer schools, including Bowdoin and Colby colleges in Brunswick and Waterville, respectively, are also seeing higher costs and rising fees for students.

At Colby, for example, next year’s comprehensive fee will be $87,490, more than $2,000 higher than Bates is charging. It’s a 4.5% increase over what Colby charged this academic year.

Colby, like Bates, says it endeavors to meet all needs for the student it admits.

Each year, Bates said, its administrators review the cost of attendance at about 50 peer institutions, including every member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, “to understand how our single fee compares.”

“Over the past decade, the college has steadily moved down in that group in terms of cost,” Bates said. It added that it anticipates this year its single fee will be “well into the bottom third of that group.”

In fact, Bates said it expects to “have the lowest mandatory fees in the NESCAC” for the coming academic year.


Bates said that making it possible for low- and middle-income students to attend is fundamental to its mission.

It is one of 75 colleges in the nation that says it is committed to meeting 100% of a student’s financial needs, with most of its aid given in the form of grants that don’t need to be repaid.

“As a result,” Bates said, “we are consistently included on ‘Best Value Liberal Arts Colleges’ lists.”

The soaring cost of higher education goes well beyond Bates.

The Century Foundation said the reasons for rising tuition prices are complex, including too little government investment in public higher education and bloated administrative costs.

Some argue, too, that federal financial aid contributes to the problem by “creating an incentive for institutions to raise tuition prices to capture more aid,” the foundation said.

Bates has seen tuition increases in years past that exceed this year’s percentage hike.

For a five-year period beginning in 2004, every year Bates increased its single fee by more than 5%. In 2004, it rose 6.4%, the highest one-year hike since at least 1998.

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