U.S. college and university endowments lost an average of 19 percent on their investment returns in the 2009 fiscal year, according to a new survey of 504 institutions, including Yale, released this week. The average investment gain over the past 10 years for the same institutions was 4.2 percent, said the study’s authors, the National Association of College and University Business Officers and the Commonfund Institute.

American schools haven’t lost so much since 1974, when a NACUBO survey showed average losses of 11.4 percent, but the survey also offers a little bit of hope. A preliminary survey of 435 endowments conducted in November 2008 showed investment losses of 22.5 percent, meaning educational endowments have rebounded by 3.5 percent. As world financial markets have recovered, colleges and universities have begun to recoup their losses and will probably continue to do so, the Commonfund Institute’s executive director, John Griswold, said. (Provost Peter Salovey recently told the News that Yale’s endowment has recovered slightly.)

Still, Yale’s endowment has dropped by significantly more than the survey’s average figure of 19 percent; the university reported a 24.6 loss on investment returns for the same year studied by the survey. Other wealthy universities, including Harvard and Stanford, reported declines that were even worse. That suggests that the endowments of smaller institutions outperformed those of Yale and its peers over the past year.

A final version of the report, covering the entire 2009 fiscal year and more than 800 schools, will be released on Jan. 27.