The value of university endowments fell about 23 percent on average in the five months ended Nov. 30, according to two newly released reports analyzed in the New York Times. The steep declines are forcing colleges and universities across the country to contemplate wage freezes, layoffs and a halt to construction projects. The drop found by the reports is the biggest in the value of college and university endowments since the mid-1970s, said John S. Griswold Jr., executive director of the Commonfund Institute, which manages money for educational institutions and other nonprofits. "It’s been very sudden in some ways," Mr. Griswold said. "There were people predicting the decline a year ago or more, but I don’t think anyone could claim to see the extent of this. These are unprecedented numbers." The reports, prepared for the National Association of College and University Business Officers by the financial services company TIAA-CREF and the Commonfund Institute, drew on data from 796 institutions for the 2008 fiscal year, which ended June 30, and on additional statistics gleaned from a follow-up survey with 435 for the period from July 1 to Nov. 30. They found that while endowments gained in value by about 0.5 percent in the old fiscal year, they lost nearly a quarter of their worth in the subsequent five months, a period in which the financial markets sank…

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