50-50 Highlights: Average Endowment per Student

gold coins under a roofWhy look at a college’s endowment when trying to decide where to go to school? This falls into the category of all other things being equal, why not attend an institution that is in a better financial situation? Or more importantly, why risk going to a university that is facing financial difficulties?

Of course, defining “financial difficulties” isn’t easy. According to a 2012 study by Bain & Company, one-third of colleges and universities are on an “unsustainable financial path” including Harvard and Princeton. Needless to say, the study has some limitations. However, it produced a very cool graphic tool that you can use to identify which schools are at risk at Financial Fade.

I would like to say that higher endowments mean more money spent on students but that isn’t necessarily the case.  For a quick summary of the usual reasons given why endowments shouldn’t be expected to reduce rising college costs, read College Endowments: Why Even Harvard Isn’t as Rich as You Think.

But then again, according to Educause, The Purposes and Uses of Endowment, “40 institutions with endowments greater than $1 billion earned an average three-year return of 11.6 percent. Yet the average payout for this group was just 4.3 percent for fiscal year 2005, a drop from previous years.” I guess that’s how those with money get more money.

So how do the universities that have endowments spend the money? People have only been starting to ask that question in the past few years and many are not happy with the answer. In Endowments fund dorms, salaries — and sometimes tuition, Lynn Munson is quoted as saying, “they are used on projects to reflect wealth and self-esteem, not as a functional pot of money.” The article states that

Schools tend to use endowments for long-term plans and whatever will help attract students. That could be helping to ensure the future of certain positions — such as 15 athletics department positions at Harvard. It may also be a tuition cut or dorms and facilities that set it apart from other schools.

Remember, in many cases institutions may not have much choice in how to spend the money. According to a GAO study, Postsecondary Education: College and University Endowments Have Shown Long-Term Growth, While Size, Restrictions, and Distributions Vary, only 28% of Harvard’s endowment is unrestricted and endowment expenditures account for 44% of operating expenses. Less than one percent of The University of Texas’ endowment, the largest public school endowment, is unrestricted and accounts for only 5.4% of operating expenses.

So it’s not surprising that you can find universities spending more on students than those that have substantially larger endowments. US News has created an interesting Operating Efficiency Rankings that “shows how much each school is spending per student in relation to one point in its overall score and thus its numerical position in the Best Colleges rankings.” Ultimately, “the list shows that high spending per student is not always correlated with the very highest rankings.”

Now that I’ve made the importance of endowments in selecting a school about as clear as mud, I’ll list the 50-50 schools with the highest endowments per student. The numbers are based on the IPEDS data from the DIY College Rankings College Search Spreadsheet. As usual, the four-year graduation rate is used for private institutions and the five-year rate for public universities. Use as you see fit.

Average Endowment per Student
for Private 50-50 Institutions

4/5 yr
Trinity UniversityTX68324595
Wabash CollegeIN71323970
Berry CollegeGA51319937
Randolph CollegeVA55283423
Whitman CollegeWA80229482
Earlham CollegeIN61228583
Mount Holyoke CollegeMA74212414
Southwestern UniversityTX62188893
Case Western Reserve UniversityOH65176403
Furman UniversitySC81169484
DePauw UniversityIN83168430
Sewanee-The University of the SouthTN78160287
Rhodes CollegeTN76150634
Centre CollegeKY84143790
Hanover CollegeIN62129355
Sweet Briar CollegeVA57127536
Centenary College of LouisianaLA51119652
Lawrence UniversityWI59119060
The College of WoosterOH70117126
Illinois CollegeIL52116181
Mills CollegeCA50111215
Southern Methodist UniversityTX60107966
Hollins UniversityVA58106272
Hampden-Sydney CollegeVA58104650
Transylvania UniversityKY69102667
Washington CollegeMD67100038
Hendrix CollegeAR5499509
Kalamazoo CollegeMI7794782
Lycoming CollegePA6294637
Wheaton CollegeIL7992413

Average Endowment per Student
for Public 50-50 Institutions


4/5 yr
University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh CampusPA7669953
Citadel Military College of South CarolinaSC6951609
University of Wisconsin-MadisonWI7948872
University of DelawareDE7547019
University of Washington-Seattle CampusWA7642660
University of KansasKS5641012
Purdue University-Main CampusIN6439139
University of ArkansasAR5337331
University of IowaIA6735946
University of KentuckyKY5432268
Ohio State University-Main CampusOH7431727
University of Cincinnati-Main CampusOH4931724
New College of FloridaFL6831564
Michigan State UniversityMI7330459
University of Oklahoma Norman CampusOK5730374
Pennsylvania State University-Main CampusPA8328825
Washington State UniversityWA6428144
University of MississippiMS5425736
University of VermontVT7422306
Miami University-OxfordOH7919901
The University of TennesseeTN5619869
Missouri University of Science and TechnologyMO6019605
University of OregonOR6418484
Iowa State UniversityIA6618280
University of Missouri-ColumbiaMO6618114
Oregon State UniversityOR5418080
Indiana University-BloomingtonIN6717834
Auburn UniversityAL6017388
University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIL8317321
The University of Texas at DallasTX5917068


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