The National Association of College and University Business Officers released data on college and university endowments. Not surprisingly, Harvard still has the largest endowment with $25 billion, followed by Yale ($15 billion), and Stanford ($12 billion). Williams weighs in at #37 with $1.3 billion, To put that number in a little perspective, it is larger than the University of Toronto and, more importanty, Amherst. Alternatively, “if you added up the endowments of the 10 historically black colleges with the largest funds, they would not equal the endowment of Williams College.” Not bad for a school with only 2000 students.

What surprised me is that Grinnell has passed Williams in liberal arts endowment. I guess this was true in 2003 as well, but I somehow missed it. I can’t any stories about Grinnell receiving a very large gift, so how did it surpass Williams? It is a smaller college in a less wealthy part of the country, so the shift is surprising. The only suggestion I can find is that Grinnell spends less of its endowment than Williams:

Grinnell College in Iowa had the distinction of being the wealthiest liberal-arts college, with an endowment of $1.3 billion in 2004. But Grinnell spent only 4% of its endowment that year. In fiscal 2005, the figure fell to 3.5%.

Mickey Munley, vice president of college and alumni relations, says the school has a policy of spending 4.5% of the average size of the endowment for the last three years. He says the school relies on its endowment for half its spending and needs to be conservative about its withdrawals. In fact, Mr. Munley says, the school has plans to bring down the rate to 4% by 2007. At the same time, the school expects to raise its tuition and fees — now just under $35,000 — so they are more in line with rivals. “We are trying to be responsible for future generations of students,” he says.

This might imply that Grinnell is not on the building spree that our alma mater is at the moment. So the Williams administration builds facilities to “benefit future generations of students” and Grinnell saves its money. I suppose the correct strategy depends upon whether you think the new buildings will be a net positive. Given the quality of the new science facilities, art building, and Goodrich Hall, I like the adminstration’s strategy.

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