Amid Maine’s ongoing migrant and housing crises, Maine’s elite liberal arts colleges could help alleviate the burden placed on Maine’s cities and towns by welcoming housing insecure migrants into student dormitories.
But despite an abundance of resources and receiving generous tax benefits and grants from the federal government, Maine’s private colleges in Brunswick, Lewiston, and Waterville will not be opening their dorms to asylum seekers this summer, the Maine Wire has learned.
Representatives from Bowdoin College, Bates College, and Colby College all confirmed that they do not intend to lend a hand by housing asylum seekers in their dormitories this year.
Since 2019, thousands of migrants have arrived in Maine. Providing housing, education, emergency services, and food for those migrants has been the burden of state and municipal governments, taxpayers, and non-governmental organizations.
In Portland, shelter facilities and a de facto migrant camp at the Portland Exposition building have reached capacity already this year. While city leaders in the southern part of the state have bent over backwards to accommodate the “New Mainers,” the lack of housing means there’s no obvious way to quickly transition the migrants from shelters and temporary facilities into permanent housing.
Yet homeless, jobless migrants continue to arrive in Maine looking for help. And the pace of new arrivals could accelerate this summer with the suspension of Title 42, a federal rule that allowed border officials to deny entry to migrants at the southern border during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The dormitories of Maine’s elite liberal arts colleges could potentially house thousands of migrants in safe, humane conditions.
All three colleges typically enroll, house, and feed around 1,800 students per year.
Yet spokespeople for the colleges, whose endowments range from Bates’s $418 million to Bowdoin’s $2.5 billion, according to recent statements, are not laying out the welcome mat for housing insecure African migrants.
When asked about the prospect of the Lewiston-based Bates College housing asylum seekers on their campus this summer, Media Relations Specialist Mary Pols said nothing was in the works.
“Bates college has no such plans,” said Pols.
Pols did say, however, that Bates will be hosting dancers in their dorms for the Bates Dance Festival this summer, along with students who have summer internships at the college—but no asylum seekers.
George Sopko, Director of Media Relations at Colby College, also denied having heard any rumors that they would house migrants and that they had no plans to do so.
When asked same question, a spokesperson from Bowdoin said the college had no plans to assist homeless asylum seekers who have arrived primarily from Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But that’s not to say Bowdoin isn’t doing anything to help.
“What Bowdoin has done is to offer to donate some used dorm furniture,” the spokesperson said.
In the 2022-2023 school year, attending one of these elite liberal arts colleges cost as much as $80,000 per student.
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As nonprofits, the colleges are exempt from most taxes, including municipal property taxes; however, some of them have an arrangement known as Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, in which they voluntarily contribute a sum of money to the city or town governments where they are located.
So as property taxes increase to deal with increased public education and General Assistance costs associated with migrant resettlement, Maine’s top colleges will be largely insulated from the higher costs.
For example, although Bowdoin makes significant contributions to area nonprofits and is the 30th largest employer in the state of Maine, it pays only a limited amount in taxes to the town of Brunswick under its PILOT.
According to an economic impact statement released by the college, it paid $81,848 in property taxes to the town of Brunswick during the year ending June 30, 2021.
The college made an additional $471,000 in contributions to the town, as well as paying roughly $50,000 in various fees.
Still, the amount of money Bowdoin pays to support municipal government, including Brunswick’s local schools, is far less under the PILOT than it would be if Bowdoin were assessed like for-profit businesses operating within the town.
Bowdoin’s contribution to local government is especially noteworthy considering the town is preparing to raise property taxes by more than 7 percent in order to accommodate the enrollment of children from migrant families in the public school system.
Those migrant families will be living in an affordable housing complex constructed on the old Brunswick Naval Air Base, where they are eligible for two-years rent-free under a state housing program.
In 2020, Bowdoin reported receipt of $4.8 million in government grants.
Colby College, located in Waterville, reported an endowment worth $1.12 billion in 2022.
In the same year, the college reported having received more than $7 million in government grants.
“[O]ver the last five years, Colby has made approximately $1.7 million in payments to the city of Waterville for annual designations, property taxes, and master-planning expenses, with $525,000 in 2018 alone,” Colby said in 2019.
Colby President David A. Greene took home more than $1.3 million in 2022.
In 2015, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage introduced a plan that would have allowed municipal governments to tax nonprofit organizations, including private colleges and large nonprofit hospitals.
However, the plan was not well received by lawmakers and never became law.