Swarthmore College is in rare company nationally as a school that collects nearly as much or more revenue from investments as it does from students.
Its $1.5 billion endowment - about $1 million per student - allows the highly ranked college to spend more on each student, but it does not fully shield Swarthmore from the economic forces threatening higher education.
"When we think about the future, we're worried about... economic growth in this country," said Suzanne Welsh, vice president for finance and treasurer at Swarthmore.
The economy has grown, but "it's not showing up in growth in family incomes to any large extent. That affects how much families can pay in tuition," Welsh said.
That worry about tuition dollars at Swarthmore, where endowment income typically accounts for 40 percent of the operating budget, could turn into a full-blown financial crisis for schools that depend heavily on tuition to pay bills unless they change the way they operate.