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Secrets of the Academy: The Drivers of University Endowment Success

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  • Josh Lerner
  • Antoinette Schoar
  • Jialan Wang

Abstract

University endowments have received much attention recently for their superior investment returns compared with other institutional investors. This study documents trends in college and university endowment returns and investments in the United States between 1992 and 2005 using data on over a thousand schools. Such endowments have generally performed well over this time period, with a median growth rate of 7.4 percent per year and median return of 6.9 percent. This sector has been dominated both in size and performance by the endowments of elite universities such as the Ivy League schools. The top 20 endowments grew more than 9 percent annually on a real basis between 1992 and 2005. As of 2007, the two largest endowments, belonging to Harvard and Yale, have grown to $35 billion and $22 billion in size, respectively. Much of the growth in endowment size has been driven by investment performance. As we will show in the paper, the top endowments posted impressive returns in 2005, averaging a net real return of 12.3 percent, compared to 4.4 percent posted by the S&P 500 index in the same year. We investigate the underlying drivers of these high returns and show that performance is related to the size of endowment, the quality of the student body, and the use of alternative investments. We caution ordinary investors that mimicking the strategies of the top endowments would not necessarily result in similar returns.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.22.3.207
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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 22 (2008)
Issue (Month): 3 (Summer)
Pages: 207-22

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:22:y:2008:i:3:p:207-22

Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.22.3.207
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References

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  1. Alexander Ljungqvist & Matthew Richardson & Daniel Wolfenzon, 2008. "The Investment Behavior of Buyout Funds: Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 14180, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Josh Lerner & Antoinette Schoar & Wan Wong, 2005. "Smart Institutions, Foolish Choices? The Limited Partner Performance Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 11136, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Steven N. Kaplan & Antoinette Schoar, 2005. "Private Equity Performance: Returns, Persistence, and Capital Flows," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 60(4), pages 1791-1823, 08.
  4. Gompers, Paul & Lerner, Josh, 2000. "Money chasing deals? The impact of fund inflows on private equity valuation," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(2), pages 281-325, February.
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Cited by:
  1. Sensoy, Berk A. & Wang, Yingdi & Weisbach, Michael S., 2014. "Limited partner performance and the maturing of the private equity industry," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 112(3), pages 320-343.
  2. William N. Goetzmann & Sharon Oster, 2013. "Competition Among University Endowments," NBER Chapters, in: How the Financial Crisis and Great Recession Affected Higher Education National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Caroline M. Hoxby, 2012. "Endowment Management Based on a Positive Model of the University," NBER Working Papers 18626, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Keith C. Brown & Cristian Ioan Tiu, 2013. "The Interaction of Spending Policies, Asset Allocation Strategies, and Investment Performance at University Endowment Funds," NBER Chapters, in: How the Financial Crisis and Great Recession Affected Higher Education National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Wolfgang Bessler & Julian Holler & Philipp Kurmann, 2012. "Hedge funds and optimal asset allocation: Bayesian expectations and spanning tests," Financial Markets and Portfolio Management, Springer, vol. 26(1), pages 109-141, March.
  6. Brown, Keith C. & Garlappi, Lorenzo & Tiu, Cristian, 2010. "Asset allocation and portfolio performance: Evidence from university endowment funds," Journal of Financial Markets, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 268-294, May.
  7. Shawn Kantor & Alexander Whalley, 2009. "Do Universities Generate Agglomeration Spillovers? Evidence from Endowment Value Shocks," NBER Working Papers 15299, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Jeffrey R. Brown & Stephen G. Dimmock & Scott Weisbenner, 2012. "The Supply of and Demand for Charitable Donations to Higher Education," NBER Working Papers 18389, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Jakub W. Jurek & Erik Stafford, 2011. "The Cost of Capital for Alternative Investments," Harvard Business School Working Papers 12-013, Harvard Business School.
  10. Hege, Ulrich & Nuti, Alessandro, 2011. "The Private Equity Secondaries Market During the Financial Crisis and the “Valuation Gap”," MPRA Paper 39550, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  11. Keith Brown & Cristian Tiu, 2013. "The Interaction of Spending Policies, Asset Allocation Strategies, and Investment Performance at University Endowment Funds," NBER Working Papers 19517, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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