Endowment returns flat for universities

To beat inflation (higher for the goods and services colleges purchase than for the overall economy) and replenish payouts to support university spending, endowments have needed to return about 7.4 percent annually, said Verne Sedlacek, president and CEO of Commonfund.

Larger endowments, over $1 billion, have managed that, averaging 7.6 percent over the last decade, the survey found. But endowments under $100 million have returned on average less than 6 percent (the average return for all schools in the survey was 6.2 percent).

Returns averaged 19.2 percent in fiscal 2011. Poor performances in international equities and hedge funds dragged down returns last year, the report found.

Overall, there are 71 U.S. universities with endowments higher than $1 billion, down from 76 in the survey a year ago.

Here are the top 10 university endowments, their 2012 value and the percentage change from 2011:

1. Harvard University, $30.44 billion, down 4.1 percent.

2. Yale University, $19.35 billion, down 0.1 percent.

3. University of Texas System, $18.26 billion, up 6.5 percent.

4. Stanford University, $17.04 billion, up 3.2 percent.

5. Princeton University, $16.95 percent, down 0.9 percent.

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, $10.15 billion, up 4.5 percent.

7. University of Michigan, $7.69 billion, down 1.8 percent.

8. Columbia University, $7.65 billion, down 1.7 percent.

9. Texas A&M University System, $7.64 billion, up 9.1 percent.

10. Northwestern University, $7.12 billion, down 0.9 percent.

Changes from 2011 reflect combined impact of fundraising, investment returns and spending out of the endowments.