Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Bowdoin College recently increased its minimum wage for employees to $17 per hour in an effort to attract and retain essential workers.

The new minimum wage applies to all Bowdoin employees who make less than $17 per hour, including food service employees, custodians, grounds keepers, and administrative staff. It went into effect July 1.

Bowdoin President Clayton Rose said the increase was necessary to counter a “tight labor market” with low unemployment and high demand for workers. He said it will help the college attract “strong candidates” and provide “competitive wages and benefits” to keep valued employees.

Rose cited studies showing a declining percentage of U.S. workers earning less than $15 per hour and noted some cities and states have increased minimum wages to $15-$20 per hour. Bowdoin’s peer liberal arts colleges have also increased minimum wages in recent years.

“We expect the higher minimum wage will strengthen our ability to attract and retain the talented team members essential to Bowdoin’s success,” Rose said. He framed it as an important step to advance Bowdoin’s mission by “providing a supportive and inclusive work environment for all members of our community.”

In a message to the Bowdoin community, Rose stressed the increase aims to “ensure we provide wages that meet basic needs and enable people to support themselves with dignity.” He said the college will absorb costs within its budget to implement the change without passing on financial burdens to students or families.

Some analysts argue minimum wage hikes create risks like job losses, higher prices, and business closures, especially for smaller nonprofits. However, other research finds minimal impacts or even benefits such as reduced employee turnover. Experts also note risks are often overstated while benefits of a higher minimum wage include poverty reduction, income support, and a more just economy.

Supporters praise Bowdoin’s move as an important step that should inspire other colleges and nonprofits to pay living wages so essential employees can make ends meet. They argue institutions have a moral duty to provide fair compensation and advancement opportunities for low-wage workers central to their mission and operations.

While effects on Bowdoin remain to be seen, increasing the minimum wage is seen as a bold move that can strengthen employee morale, engagement, productivity, and loyalty. If successful, it could influence how other colleges navigate rising costs and tight labor markets while balancing important priorities around affordability, access, and mission. The impacts of Bowdoin’s decision will be watched closely as a case study in navigating these complex issues.

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