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The Interaction of Spending Policies, Asset Allocation Strategies, and Investment Performance at University Endowment Funds


  • Keith Brown
  • Cristian Tiu


Using data for more than 800 college and university endowment funds over 2003-2011, we provide a comprehensive analysis of the spending policies used in practice as well as how frequently and why those mandates are revised over time. Given the long-term and relatively static nature of the investment problem faced by the typical educational institution, existing theoretical models of endowment management predict that the permanent portion of the stated spending policy should be highly stable. However, we find that half of the endowments revised their rules at least once and, on average, about a quarter of the sample changed their spending policies each year, implying a retention rate far lower than expected. We show that larger endowments with lower historical portfolio returns and lower past payout levels are more likely to alter their future spending formulas, but that institutions having the ability to invoke special appropriations on a temporary basis are less likely to make adjustments to their permanent rules. Further, we document that both spending rule changes and asset allocation adjustments persist over time and that, consistent with hypothesized behavior, the former tends to lead the latter. Finally, while there is some evidence that endowment funds as a group produce superior returns relative to their policy benchmarks, we show that there is no difference in benchmark-adjusted performance between institutions that either did or did not change their spending rules.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19517
    Note: AP ED PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jeffrey R. Brown & Stephen G. Dimmock & Jun-Koo Kang & Scott J. Weisbenner, 2014. "How University Endowments Respond to Financial Market Shocks: Evidence and Implications," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(3), pages 931-962, March.
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    3. Hansmann, Henry, 1990. "Why Do Universities Have Endowments?," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(1), pages 3-42, January.
    4. Bodily, Samuel E. & White, Chelsea C., 1982. "Optimal Consumption and Portfolio Strategies in a Discrete-Time Model with Summary-Dependent Preferences," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 17(01), pages 1-14, March.
    5. Tobin, James, 1974. "What Is Permanent Endowment Income?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(2), pages 427-432, May.
    6. Woglom, Geoffrey, 2003. "Endowment spending rates, intergenerational equity and the sources of capital gains," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(6), pages 591-601, December.
    7. 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.
    8. Merton, Robert C., 1971. "Optimum consumption and portfolio rules in a continuous-time model," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 373-413, December.
    9. Litvack, James M & Malkiel, Burton G & Quandt, Richard E, 1974. "A Plan for the Definition of Endowment Income," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 64(2), pages 433-437, May.
    10. 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.
    11. Marshall Blume, 2010. "Endowment spending in volatile markets: what should fiduciaries do?," Review of Quantitative Finance and Accounting, Springer, vol. 35(2), pages 163-178, August.
    12. 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.
    13. Paul A. Samuelson, 2011. "Lifetime Portfolio Selection by Dynamic Stochastic Programming," World Scientific Book Chapters,in: THE KELLY CAPITAL GROWTH INVESTMENT CRITERION THEORY and PRACTICE, chapter 31, pages 465-472 World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd..
    14. Jeffrey R. Brown & Stephen G. Dimmock & Scott Weisbenner, 2012. "The Supply of and Demand for Charitable Donations to Higher Education," NBER Chapters,in: How the Financial Crisis and Great Recession Affected Higher Education, pages 151-174 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Stephen G. Dimmock, 2012. "Background Risk and University Endowment Funds," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 94(3), pages 789-799, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kalodimos, Jonathan, 2017. "Internal governance and performance: Evidence from when external discipline is weak," Journal of Corporate Finance, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 193-216.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G23 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Non-bank Financial Institutions; Financial Instruments; Institutional Investors
    • I22 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Educational Finance; Financial Aid
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions

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