The five largest university endowments belong to Harvard University, the University of Texas system, Yale University, Stanford University and Princeton University. Each holds more than $25 billion in assets.

And those assets are growing, albeit at a slower pace compared with previous years. On the whole, American colleges and universities grew their endowments by 5.3% net of fees in the financial year ending June 30, 2019. That is down from the 8.2% return recorded in the previous financial year. These figures come from the National Association of College and University Business Officers and asset management firm TIAA, which gathered data from 774 colleges and universities and their affiliated foundations. Combined, these schools held $630 billion in assets. But while the top endowments were flush with billions of dollars in assets, the typical endowment held just $144.4 million in funds.

University endowments work to earn a return on assets that can then be spent on priorities such as research, salaries or financial aid. The typical endowment had a drawdown percentage of 4.5% in 2019, which was slightly higher than 4.4% of assets that endowments distributed in the previous year.

Here we look at the five largest university endowments in greater detail.

Key Takeaways

  • The five largest university endowments belong to Harvard University, the University of Texas system, Yale University, Stanford University and Princeton University.
  • Endowments at colleges and universities grew their assets by 5.3% in 2019, compared a 8.2% return in the previous year.
  • While the top schools have billions of dollars at their disposal, the typical endowment held just $144.4 million in assets.
  • In 2019, endowments distributed 4.5% of their funds, which paid for priorities such as research, salaries and student financial aid.

Harvard University - $40.9 Billion

Harvard University has the largest endowment in the world, with $40.9 billion in assets at the end of 2019, up 6.5% from the year before. Harvard's endowment is comprised of more than 13,000 separate endowments aggregated over the past 350 years. The fund distributed $1.9 billion to the university in 2019, representing 35% of its revenue for the year. Harvard Management Company has overseen the university's endowment since 1974. About 33% of assets were allocated to hedge funds, which contributed a 5.5% return. Public equities accounted for 26% and contributed a 5.9% return, while private equity accounted for 20% and returned 16%.

University of Texas - $30.9 Billion

The University of Texas system had roughly $30.9 billion in endowment assets at the end of the 2019 financial year, little changed from the year before. The University of Texas/Texas A&M investment Company oversees the system's four major endowment funds, which are the Permanent University Fund, the Permanent Health Fund, Long Term Fund and the Separately Invested Fund. The Permanent University Fund supports the University of Texas, Texas A&M and their smaller schools. The Permanent Health Fund contributes revenue to medical research, health education, public health, nursing and treatment programs.

Yale University - $30.3 Billion

Yale University grew its endowment by 5.7% in the 2019 financial year, reaching $30.3 billion in assets. The endowment distributed $1.4 billion to the university, representing about 34% of its revenue. The endowment's performance in 2019 trails its 10-year track record, which shows a 11.1% annual return. The endowment targets a minimum allocation of 30% to lower-risk assets such as cash, bonds and absolute return funds. About 21.5% of assets are allocated toward venture capital, and 16.5% is allocated toward leveraged buyouts.

$10 billion

Out of 774 school endowments surveyed, 13 held at least this much in assets in 2019.

Stanford University - $27.7 Billion

Stanford University held $27.7 billion in endowment assets at the end of the 2019, up 4.7% from previously. The endowment distributed $1.3 billion to the university in 2019, for a drawdown percentage of 4.9% of assets. The amount represented 21.8% of the university's total expenses. The majority of endowment disbursements go toward scholarships, fellowships, professorships and other academic support.

The endowment is overseen by Stanford Management Company, which manages other assets for the university. About 30% of the university's merged pool of assets is allocated toward private equity. Absolute return funds accounted for 20%, international equities another 20%, and real estate 8%.

Princeton University - $26.1 Billion

At the end of 2019, Princeton University's endowment held $26.1 billion in assets, an increase of $200 million. Princeton University Investment Company manages the bulk of the endowment. Managers earned a 6.2% return on the $25.6 billion they oversee. In 2019, the endowment distributed $1.4 billion to the university, or 5.3% of what it held at the start of the financial year.

About 18% of endowment spending goes toward supporting students. This allows the university to cover 100% of tuition, fees, and room and board for students from families earning less than $65,000 per year. About 24.5% of undergraduates receive a Pell Grant, which is awarded on the basis of financial need. This was 300% higher compared with the 2007 graduating class. More than 61% of undergrads receive financial aid, and 82% are able to leave school debt free.