Dickinson Endowment Posts 4.4% Loss, One of Worst Among Colleges

  • At least 11 large universities reported investment declines
  • Small liberal arts school still plans to increase spending

Dickinson College, a small private liberal arts school with an endowment managed by Investure LLC, posted a 4.4 percent investment loss in fiscal 2016, one of the worst returns among schools so far.

At least 11 U.S. universities with assets of more than $1 billion reported declines for the year through June 30. Endowments of all sizes were down a median 0.74 percent, according to the Wilshire Trust Universe Comparison Service. The Wilshire data, from fund custodians, excludes fees while most schools report returns net of fees.

The value of the Dickinson endowment declined 7.2 percent to $412.6 million from the prior year, according to a report posted on the school’s website. Dickinson, which is based in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, didn’t disclose how individual strategies performed, and school officials declined to comment.

Alternative Equity

As of June 30, the college invested 24 percent of its endowment with alternative equity, its second-largest allocation after global equity, which accounted for 38 percent of its portfolio.

About 82 percent of Dickinson’s endowment is managed by Investure, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based investment firm run by Alice Handy that has $12 billion of endowment and foundation funds under management. Handy declined to comment, referring questions to Dickinson.

As a client of Investure since 2006, Dickinson’s endowment rose to a high of $444 million in 2015, a 57 percent increase from 2012. The endowment had an investment return of 7.9 percent in fiscal 2015, according to the school.

College Operations

Investure’s other clients, which include the University of Tulsa, Smith College and Middlebury College, reported some of the best investment returns among college funds in fiscal 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. These schools haven’t yet reported fiscal 2016 performance.

Dickinson, with a current enrollment of 2,370, plans to allocate $17.1 million of its endowment toward the school’s operating budget; an increase of 4.1 percent from the prior year, said Bronte Burleigh-Jones, vice president for finance and administration. In fiscal 2015, Dickinson had $140 million in annual revenue.

“The negative returns will have no immediate impact on college operations,” Burleigh-Jones said. Dickinson calculates its spending rate based on the past three years of investment performance. The annualized three-year return was 5.6 percent through June 30, according to the school.

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