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Secrets of the Academy: The Drivers of University Endowment Success

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Listed:
  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Josh Lerner & Antoinette Schoar & Jialan Wang, 2008. "Secrets of the Academy: The Drivers of University Endowment Success," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(3), pages 207-222, Summer.
  • 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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    File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.22.3.207
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    References listed on IDEAS

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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. 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.
    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, August.
    4. Josh Lerner & Antoinette Schoar & Wan Wongsunwai, 2007. "Smart Institutions, Foolish Choices: The Limited Partner Performance Puzzle," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 62(2), pages 731-764, April.
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    JEL classification:

    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid

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