Harvard, Cornell, Brown And MIT Post Bumper Endowment Gains

By Derek Saul, Forbes Staff

Topline

Brown University, Cornell University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology all reported robust returns for their endowment funds in the fiscal year ending in June on Thursday, with MIT leading the way with a blistering 55.5% return, followed by Brown at 51.5%, Cornell at 41.9% and Harvard at 33.6%.

Cornell University posted its best endowment performance since the 1980s. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images) LightRocket via Getty Images

Key Facts

Fueled by the strong pandemic bounceback of stocks and venture capital gains,  the Cornell endowment fund’s one-year performance was its best in more than 35 years while MIT’s was the best in more than 20 years. 

The gains outpaced the 27% median annual return for all U.S. college endowments previously reported by Bloomberg.

Their fellow elite private universities Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt and Washington University in St. Louis announced last month endowment gains between 41% and 65%. 

College endowments typically cover about a quarter of university budgets, primarily funding financial aid and academic programs.

Big Number

$53.2 billion. That’s how large Harvard’s endowment is after an $11.3 billion increase from last year, maintaining its position as the largest in the country. 

Contra

The massive uptick in college endowments will allow universities to spend more, but don’t expect schools to go on a bender. According to a study from the American Council on Education, the average spending rate for endowments was 4.6% from 2011 to 2020, and universities with endowments of $1 billion spent an average of 4.5% in 2020. A large portion of endowments are earmarked to specific purposes from donors and can’t be spent freely. Still, Harvard vowed to raise a planned increase in its annual distribution from its endowment from 1% to 2.5% due to its strong investment performance, while MIT plans to up endowment spending by $286 million in the next fiscal year thanks to the gains. 

Further Reading

Big Endowment Returns Pressure U.S. Colleges to Boost Spending (Bloomberg)

How the Ivy League stays so rich: College endowments (CNBC)


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