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Articles: Endowments

When Teri McIntyre was a University of Wisconsin undergrad in the early ‘90s, she volunteered to call alumni to ask for college fund donations and—believe it or not—she liked making those calls. A university development officer noticed and offered McIntyre a job after graduation.

Thomas J. Botzman is president of Misericordia University.

My institution, Misericordia University in Pennsylvania, received a solid, but uninspiring B- on Forbes "America’s Top Colleges 2016." After reviewing the criteria, though, it appears our letter grade represents who we aspire to be as it fits our long-held mission of serving first-generation students and others in need.

Jeffrey R. Docking is the president of Adrian College in Michigan and the author of "Crisis in Higher Education: A Plan To Save Small Liberal Arts Colleges in America."

Sometimes, well-known propositions lead to predictable conclusions. But not always. Occasionally, they lead to surprises—and even busted myths. Here’s one: Wealthy, private institutions willing to invest large endowments in financial aid for poorer students do the best job of expanding access to higher education.

Intentional Endowments Network supports investment practices that produce financial returns while addressing environmental, social, governance and sustainability factors.

With college students increasingly calling on schools to divest endowments from fossil fuels, Becker College in Massachusetts became the first institution to mandate that all of its investments generate a positive impact on society—and a targeted financial return.

Being able to draw from the endowment is important for an institution like Berea College because of its no-tuition promise. Students are required to work as they attend school, with assignments such as greeting guests at the Historic Boone Tavern Hotel.

On average, academic institutions spend between 4.5 and 5 percent of their endowments annually. But when endowment returns are way down, it’s not exactly prudent to spend the same percentage of the endowment with the assumption that target investment payoff percentages will return.

It’s certainly not black or white for investors.

“The discussion around the table in investment committees is: How do you allocate risk across various investment options available to optimize returns for five to seven years? There isn’t a neat, pat answer,” says Bill Jarvis of the Commonfund Institute.

At the University of South Florida, current and former scholarship recipients were among those who signed a giant thank-you card presented to donors Barron and Dana Collier during a ceremony announcing their latest major gift.

Smart advancement teams put thought and research into making stewardship individual and heartfelt. But how far will institutions bend on their mission when a donor offers big bucks? Are donors negotiating for honorary degrees, access to students, influence over scholarships or a leg up in recruiting graduates?

Donald J. Farish is president of Roger Williams University in Rhode Island.

We are in danger of creating an environment where the “best” (meaning the wealthiest) colleges and universities are perceived to be reserved for those with sufficient status, money and influence. Everyone else is effectively relegated to struggling institutions that cost too much yet that cannot provide sufficient financial aid to meet the needs of their students.

A biomass plant opened on Middlebury’s campus in 2009, marking a significant step toward the college’s pledge to become carbon neutral by 2016.

Fossil fuel and private prison divestment may make the biggest headlines when it comes to how colleges invest endowment funds—but it’s not actually that common a practice. A growing number of colleges and universities now seek bigger impacts—and substantial financial returns—with a strategy known as “ESG.”

Finance professor Jeffrey R. Brown's new book is "How the Financial Crisis and Great Recession Affected Higher Education," with co-editor Caroline M. Hoxby, a Stanford economics professor

In How the Financial Crisis and Great Recession Affected Higher Education, Jeffrey R. Brown, a finance professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and co-editor Caroline M. Hoxby, a Stanford economics professor, examine universities as complex economic organizations that operate in an intricate institutional and financial environment.

The latest NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments shows college increasing spending from their endowments. (Click to enlarge)

U.S. colleges and universities last year paid for operations with bigger chunks of their endowments to compensate for declines in key sources of revenue, particularly tuition and public funding.

The good news is that the average rate of return rose for the second straight year, from 11.7 percent in FY2013 to 15.5 percent in 2014, according to the “NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments,” released in January.

smoke stacks

Stop Feeding the Monster. End the Coal Age. Divest the West. Sandy Says: Divest Climate Destruction. Bound by Fossil Fuels, Freed by Action.

Messages like these have emblazoned banners on campuses across the country since’s Fossil Free divestment campaign began last November.

There are seven areas of oversight that trustees of higher education institutions should consider as fiduciaries. Mistakes in any of these areas can negatively impact the expected growth and risk profile of the portfolio, and in turn, the institution’s financial well-being.

Mistake #1: Not Tracking Total Investment Portfolio Performance

Although the legislation only applies to institutions based in New York, the New York Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act of 2010 has led to discussion in other states about how endowments should be managed to respect donor intentions while meeting institutional needs. Some key points include:

The financial crisis is in the past, more or less, and campuses are looking ahead to a new era for their endowments. But what does this mean? Four years on, we’ve come to grips with the changes wrought by the September 2008 market crash. Finance departments are revising their theories and boards of trustees are revising their expectations under what has been called the “new normal”—a time of low stock market returns, low interest rates, and low growth in personal income.