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Articles: Endowments

Westridge Capital Management, formed in 1996, promised investors enhanced cash returns by trading equity index futures. The firm's performance was so attractive, a host of pensions and endowments invested with it, including Bowling Green State University (Ohio), Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.), Ohio Northern University, and the University of Pittsburgh. In 2009, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that staff at Westridge invested very little client money.

It's common to find students filing papers in campus offices, restocking library shelves, or checking IDs at the fitness center to make a buck. What's a little less common is students replacing sidewalks and entranceways to dorms, building fountains, and constructing additions.

Interest in collecting payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) from higher ed institutions and other nonprofits is likely to grow as cash-strapped municipalities seek additional revenue, according to a new report by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. But the recommendation for cities and towns is to collaborate with colleges about the payments to ensure greater consistency and transparency.

Gov. Mitch Daniels recently implored Indiana's public college trustees to maximize efficiencies and cut administrative costs. Instead of coming to the "Statehouse asking for more money," as he stated, trustees should "stay back at the school and find ways to be more efficient with those dollars." As the president of Indiana's largest public college, I applaud the Governor for acknowledging how critical it is to manage costs as our state faces serious budget challenges. And we all have put some recent efforts in place, under the guidance of our trustees, to cut spending.

College graduates are used to hearing from their alma maters with requests about donations and to cheer on the school athletic teams. But lately, alumni from a growing number of institutions are hearing the sounds of alumni offices retooling themselves to offer an unprecedented array of services and programs.

The economic crisis has dominated the headlines since September 2008 and taken its toll on individuals and institutions alike. Few have been immune to the effects of a volatile stock market, low interest rates, rising unemployment, tight credit markets, and plunging real estate values.

Year-end statements for pensions, 403(b) accounts, and mutual funds aren't as frightening to open as they were this time last year. University endowment managers usually wait until their fiscal year ends in June before they really look at their statements, but interim surveys indicate that performance has improved.

WHEN IT BECOMES HARDER TO raise funds and the notion of success is coming up with just 90 percent of last year's revenues, fundraisers must get smarter--by better understanding their donors and the different tools and approaches to connecting with them. Colleges and universities of all sizes now have the opportunity to influence and motivate a new generation of donors and get them in the "habit of giving," but it's an uphill climb. The competition for every second of attention and each dollar is frenetic.

Over the last two years, tax-exempt colleges and universities have become targets of increased scrutiny by the Secretary of Education, the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") and the Senate Finance Committee. With the looming budget crisis and an ever-increasing deficit, regulators are taking a hard look at whether these institutions are providing the public benefits commensurate with the tax breaks they receive as a result of their tax-exempt status.

As colleges and universities face the sobering realities of the economic crisis, one has to wonder: Is higher education approaching the perfect storm?

For many universities, funding allocations are at maximum levels, while some legislatures are already instituting significant budget cuts. Endowment levels for public and private institutions are questionable as economic woes curtail benefactors’ ability to give. And costs on everything from fuel to health insurance continue to increase with no end in sight.

A leading environmentalist who happens to be our former vice president, Al Gore, said, "Holding a 'feel-good' investment may appeal to the heart, but it's of no real use if it doesn't produce a healthy financial return." The investment behavior of university and college endowments appears to confirm Gore's comments. Over the past five years, market-rate, mission-based investments made by all nonprofit organizations, including educational institutions' endowments, trusts and foundations, have grown three times faster than the below-market segment.

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