November 7th, 2013 | University

Average college endowment grows

The average college endowment grew by over 11 percent in fiscal 2013.

According to a report released Wednesday by the NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments, the assets of nearly 500 U.S. colleges and universities averaged a return of 11.7 percent in fiscal 2013, up from negative 0.3 percent in fiscal 2012. Based on the preliminary data, the average endowment return over the past three years averaged 10.4 percent while the average return over the past five years was 4.3 percent. Endowments with over $1 billion in total assets, like Yale’s and Harvard’s, had the highest average 10-year return at 8.5 percent.

“The average endowment looks at this as very encouraging, but I don’t think there’s anybody who has a good sense of what the future holds,” William Jarvis ’77, managing director of the Commonfund Institute said.

He added that organizations like the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have been supporting equity markets and kept interest rates low.

“We still have a relatively weak global economy and a recovery that is on-going,” Jarvis said. “Absolute endowment values are not back to where they were before the crisis.”

The report also found that the long-term growth of institutions’ endowment allocation in alternative investment strategies may have arrested. Yale and other top universities tend to invest heavily in these alternative classes that include assets like private equity, hedge funds and natural resources. Pioneered by Yale’s Chief Investment Officer David Swensen, this diversified style of investing is known simply as “the Yale model.” However, in fiscal 2013, the average allocation in alternative assets fell to 47 percent from 54 percent in fiscal 2012.

“The data concerning alternative strategies will bear watching as more colleges and universities report their FY2013 results,” said NACUBO President and Chief Executive Officer John D. Walda and Commonfund Institute Executive Director John S. Griswold in a joint statement in the report.

They added that the shift away from alternative strategies could suggest a desire for more liquid assets, but because domestic equities returned an average of 20.5 percent in fiscal 2013, the shift towards this asset class could simply be the result of “market action,” they said.

Last year’s NACUBO study included 831 participating institutions of higher education.

The Yale endowment earned a 12.5 percent return for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.