University of Texas Endowment Tops $25 Billion, Passing Yale

They say everything’s bigger in Texas. Now, it’s true of its public university system’s endowment.

The University of Texas endowment surpassed Yale University’s as the second-wealthiest in U.S. higher education, according to an annual survey released Thursday by Commonfund and the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

The value of the Texas System’s fund grew 24 percent to $25.4 billion in the year ended June 30, the biggest after Harvard University’s $35.9 billion. Yale’s endowment, which had ranked second since at least 2002, increased 15 percent to $23.9 billion.

Royalty revenue from oil and natural gas reserves on land owned by the University of Texas helped drive the gains, said Bruce Zimmerman, chief executive officer of the University of Texas Investment Management Co.

“The price of oil and hydraulic fracking out in West Texas has been very, very good,” Zimmerman said in a phone interview. “One of the sources of growth in the overall assets has come from those contributions into the fund from the oil and gas royalty revenue.”

Oil Prices

The value of the lands held by the University of Texas increased 70 percent to $8 billion during the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31 because of the rising value of oil and gas reserves, according to the system’s annual financial report. The prices of oil and natural gas have since fallen about 54 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

Yale, an Ivy League school located in New Haven, Connecticut, has about 13,000 students. On a per student basis, it’s far wealthier than the University of Texas, a public system based in Austin that has nine academic campuses and an enrollment of about 215,000.

Colleges on average posted a 15.5 percent investment return in the year ended June 30, Commonfund and the college business officers’ group said. The domestic stock market drove much of the growth, producing an average gain of 22.8 percent for the endowments, the groups said.

International stocks rose 19.2 percent while alternative investments such as hedge funds produced an average return of 12.7 percent for the schools, with venture capital the leading alternative asset class at 23.3 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained more than 20 percent in the same period.

‘Big Challenges’

Most schools have more than recovered from steep investment losses suffered after financial markets collapsed in 2008. Yet, the average endowment return over 10 years was 7.1 percent through 2014, below the long-term target of 7.4 percent that schools set to keep pace with spending, inflation and administrative costs, said John Walda, president of Nacubo, a membership organization based in Washington.

“There are still big challenges out there,” Walda said on a teleconference Wednesday. “We need to have good returns in the years to come to hit that target rate.”

Texas A&M University, whose money is managed in conjunction with the University of Texas, also saw a jump in the size of its endowment -- 27 percent to $11.1 billion. It held onto its seventh-place ranking in the annual survey.

In addition to investment returns, donations and spending on school operations affect the value of college endowments. The survey, which tracked 832 institutions with $516 billion of assets, found that the average spending rate from endowments was 4.4 percent in 2014, unchanged from the previous year.

Of schools with endowments of more than $1 billion, only one lost money last year: Yeshiva University, which shrunk 7.6 percent to $1.09 billion, the study found. The Jewish school in New York has struggled to balance its budget since it lost about $100 million when Bernard Madoff, a trustee, was revealed to be a fraud in December 2008.

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