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Miami's endowment continues recovery, nears pre-recession levels

By Allison McGillivray
On February 13, 2012

Miami University's Office of Treasury noted an increase in the university's endowment in 2011. The endowment had recently seen a decrease in 2009 due to the economic downturn.

As of June 30, 2011, Miami University reached a total of 2,000 endowment funds totaling almost $403.1 million, a 15.8 percent increase from 2010 and a 21.62 percent increase from 2009.

Miami has the 166th highest endowment of the 839 colleges and universities participating in the survey put out by National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO).

Chief Investment Officer Bruce Guiot said Miami is starting to see more endowments again after a drop off during the 2008-2009 economic downturn.

"The economic difficulties brought on in 2008-2009, we saw a big drop off," Guiot said. "We saw out-standing pledges being honored but we weren't seeing new commitments as much, there was a big drop there, and things have picked up from where they were in 2009."

Miami's endowment reached approximately $404.7 in 2008 but fell to only $315.9 in 2009 for a loss of 21.9 percent.

An endowment is a gift made to the university from a donor that is intended to be invested so that the fund grows over time. The earnings can be used to continually fund a project, according to Kevin Marks, senior director of development of campaign service for university advancement.

"Endowments" refers to individual gifts but a university is also said to have an "endowment" which refers to the total amount of money that has come from those endowments since the university began collecting them.

Once an endowment reaches a certain threshold, approximately 4.5 percent of that endowment is distributed each year and used in accordance with the restrictions the donor has defined for that gift. Guiot manages these endowments.

An endowment is different from a current-use gift, according to Guiot. A current-use gift can be spent right away, whereas an endowment will be invested and then the earnings on that investment will be used annually to fund a project for a long period of time.

According to Guiot, a current-use gift is more likely to be used on construction, buildings and other short-term projects.

Guiot said most donors place restrictions on their gifts, which determine how their money can be spent.

"If someone says for example ‘oh you are sitting on all this money why don't you just use it for x'. We can't. We have to use it for the purpose that the downer intended us to use it for," Guiot said.

Guiot said a common restriction that donors place on their endowments is that they must be used for scholarships.

"When you look at those restrictions that are on all of those individual endowed funds roughly half of those donors said use this endowment for scholarships, so that's the biggest impact," Guiot said.

Junior Justine Furbeck received the Robert Keller Memorial scholarship from an endowment gift.

"I got a little bit of recognition in my own major with having that scholarship," Furbeck said.

Furbeck said earning the scholarship helped her pay for Miami.

"I knew there were some departmental scholarships open in the English department for juniors and seniors," Furbeck said. "I had financial aid from Miami but not a lot so I could use the extra scholarships."

Occasionally, a donor may make an unrestricted endowment, which means that they do not decide where the money will be used by the university.

Unlike current-use gifts, endowments have a minimum amount of $25,000 that can be donated.

Guiot said gifts smaller than $25,000 do not develop significant earnings, which are needed to continually fund a project.

However, the donor does not have to pay their full donation up front, according to Guiot and Marks.

Guiot said Miami receives a wide monetary range of endowment gifts from the minimum $25,000 to millions of dollars.

Marks said 54 percent of the $435 million worth of commitments brought in by the For Love and Honor campaign has been earmarked for endowments. This equals out to be $234 million over the life of the campaign.

Guiot said Miami has the third largest endowment of the public schools in Ohio, with the Ohio State University (OSU) being the first at roughly $2 billion, followed by University of Cincinnati (UC) at roughly $1 billion.

The rest of the Ohio public universities are in the $150 million to $300 million range.

According to the NACUBO survey, Harvard University has the largest endowment with $31.7 billion.

Guiot said private schools like Harvard University have had historically better endowments.

"The private schools have made a greater effort towards fundraising, because that was a significant part of their financial well-being," Guiot said. "They didn't have the governmental support that many of the publics had."

Guiot said it became part of the culture of private school alumni to donate endowments, whereas public school alumni assume a large portion of their school's funding comes from government.

"It sort of becomes part of the culture for the alumni they know they are supposed to write a check every year," Guiot said.

Guiot said over the last 10 to 15 years, many public colleges and universities have concentrated on fundraising as a result of decreasing governmental assistance.

Guiot also said public schools with larger enrollments are likely to have a larger endowment.

"If everybody gives just a little bit, it's big dollars just because there are so many alumni," Guiot said.

However, public schools with larger enrollments like Miami and OSU tend to have a lower endowment-per-student ratio.

Guiot said via email that Miami recently combined the two pools of its two endowment organizations in order to be more efficient and to provide stronger governance.

"We have two separate endowments," Guiot said. "There is the university endowment and then there is the Miami University Foundation and that has an endowment too. [It's] a separate legal entity it has a separate board of directors, and until this past summer we were managing those two investment pools separately."

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