Between 1980 and 2016, the wealthiest 1 percent of university endowments had already grown tenfold — from an average of $2 billion to $20 billion, after adjusting for inflation. Harvard University, Yale and Princeton University did this by averaging annual return rates nearly double those of endowments valued below $100 million, as are those of most investment funds for public, private and community colleges. Similarly, this year’s median endowment among all schools gained 27 percent, roughly half the rate for the top Ivies.
In my forthcoming book “Bankers in the Ivory Tower,” I show that elite schools grew their endowments by investing large amounts early in private equity and hedge funds led by their own alumni — which helped both the schools and their graduates.
As has often been noted, institutions like Harvard, Yale, and MIT are hedge funds that happen to have universities attached to them. “Charitable” giving to them is little different than “charitable” giving to Elon Musk.