Budget projections take positive turn

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Photo by Gavan Gideon.

Yale’s 21.9 percent return on investments in fiscal year 2011 has allowed administrators to take a more optimistic approach toward budget planning for future academic years.

With fiscal year 2012 underway since July 1, the strong returns of the previous year will not take effect immediately. But Provost Peter Salovey said Wednesday that the impressive endowment performance will likely lead to a “small increase” in spending from the endowment across the University in fiscal year 2013. Though Yale’s latest budget projections — which account for the 21.9 percent return — show those annual figures increasing through fiscal year 2018, the numbers still remain significantly below levels predicted before the recession.

Less than three months into the 2011-’12 academic year, Salovey said budget planning for fiscal year 2013 has already begun. While the University projected in December 2010 that it could afford to spend $990 million from the endowment in fiscal year 2013, the latest endowment report has boosted that projection by $27 million.

“It’s not an exact science, but nobody wants to get halfway through [fiscal year 2013] and be surprised,” Salovey said. “You look at the current year and you ask yourself, ‘Is there anything we know that’s going to happen in ’13 that didn’t happen in ’12?’”

With the most recent endowment spending projections, the amount of the endowment spent in fiscal year 2013 will be 2.7 percent greater than it would have been under the December 2010 model. Over the next five fiscal years, that difference will continue to increase annually, with the gap growing to 11.8 percent by fiscal year 2018. While the figures are only projections, they indicate that last year’s endowment growth may have a lasting effect on the University’s budget.

In order to prepare for the coming year’s budget and review Yale’s long-term financial plan, the budget office adjusts general forecasts for costs, revenue sources and capital spending across the University each fall, Associate Vice President for Business Operations Steve Murphy said in a Wednesday email.

The budget office then shares a “set of standard assumptions” with professional schools, programs, and academic and administrative support units to help administrators prepare their individual budgets, Murphy said. These assumptions include an expected rate of inflation, anticipated growth in endowment income and possible increases to salaries and wages.

Salovey said he and Shauna King, University vice president for finance and business operations, will meet with unit heads throughout December and January to discuss preliminary programmatic plans for fiscal year 2013 budgets.

Over the past decade, spending from Yale’s endowment has made up a significant portion of budgets across the University — covering roughly 30 to 35 percent of total annual operating costs.

University President Richard Levin said schools that rely heavily on the endowment for their income, such as Yale College and the Yale Law School, will benefit most from a rise in endowment spending. Other parts of the University are less impacted by an increase in endowment spending because they rely more on other sources of revenue. At the Yale School of Medicine, for example, grants and contracts make up 44 percent of the school’s $1.2 billion revenue, followed by 40 percent from medical services, 10 percent from gifts and endowments, and 2 percent from tuition.

Though the raw numbers for endowment spending from the University’s latest model are not as high as those projected before the recession hit in 2008, the percent of the endowment spent each year has remained relatively consistent despite annual fluctuations in endowment value — hovering between 5.5 percent and 6 percent. This consistency is largely due to Yale’s “smoothing rule,” which bases the yearly rate of endowment spending primarily on the amount spent in the previous fiscal year. The calculated rate is held between 4.5 percent and 6 percent of the endowment’s market value.

The final proposed budget will be presented to the Yale Corporation at a meeting in the late spring.

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