For the first time since 2002, Yale is no longer the second wealthiest institution of higher education in the nation.
Over the course of the 2014 fiscal year, the endowment of the University of Texas System — which includes nine academic institutions and six health institutions — rose to $25.4 billion to inch out Yale’s $24 billion fund, according to the NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments released last week. While some experts interviewed said Yale’s drop in rankings is not a cause for concern, others argued that large, public institutions may increasingly challenge private universities when it comes to endowment size.
“Yale is still a dominant force in the endowment world,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology finance professor Andrew Lo ’80 said. “Texas is a very big state and there is lots of opportunity to grow their asset base, while Yale is in the midst of using funds for new buildings — it is all part and parcel of that dynamic.”
In calculating the wealth of an institution, the rankings reflect more than the returns on investments. Rather, the totals also include withdrawals to fund institutional operations, payment of management and investment fees, and additions from donors or outside contributions.
Bruce Zimmerman, chief executive officer of the University of Texas Investment Management Co., said the UT endowment particularly benefited from energy revenue in fiscal 2014.
“The University of Texas system’s endowment receives contributions, not only through donations from alumni, but also from oil and gas royalty revenue,” he said. “So like Yale and other investors, we did benefit from strong capital markets and good investment returns, and also what had been higher oil prices and drilling activity.”
Still, it remains uncertain whether these energy investments will serve as a large source of revenue for investors in the coming year. Since August 2014 — the end of the UT fiscal year calculations — the price of crude oil has fallen over 50 percent. Yale currently has 8 percent of its endowment invested in natural resources, which include oil and gas investments in addition to timberland, metals and mining.
Provost Benjamin Polak said he was not concerned about Yale’s decline in the rankings since the University of Texas system is an “enormous operation” relative to Yale.
According to the admissions data for both schools, Yale has roughly 12,000 students on campus compared to the 216,000 enrolled across UT’s 15 educational institutions. On an endowment per student basis, Yale has maintained its second-place position, trailing behind only Princeton.
Still, the rise of the UT system endowment may signal a broader trend in which large, public universities have come to rival the wealth of elite private institutions.
“The view of university endowment tends to be based on the idea that great private institution will always have the largest endowment,” said William Jarvis ’77, managing director of the Commonfund Institute. “If you fast forward 20, 25 years — given compounding — you may see many great endowments emerge from among these public universities. It doesn’t mean schools like Yale or Harvard will fall, but it means these public institutions will have a new [impact] in the endowment-investing field.”
Jarvis said that beginning around 1990, public universities began to change their perspective on fundraising and endowment investing. He added that these schools began mirroring the strategies already employed by elite private institutions, including a particular emphasis on targeting young alumni for donations.
Of the top 10 fastest growing endowments with at least 1 billion in assets, only two were Ivy League schools — the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College. Meanwhile, there were seven large, public universities on the list. At the top of the list was the Texas A&M University system, which saw a 27 percent growth to $11.1 billion, and the University of Michigan’s endowment, which grew 31 percent to $9.7 billion.
Although only growing 11 percent, Harvard’s endowment of $35.9 billion maintained its position as the largest in the country.