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A Small College’s Endowment Manager Beat Harvard With Index Funds

How little Carthage College surpassed the Crimson giant’s returns on its $37 billion trove, and most others.

From his home office in Charlotte, one of the most successful investors in higher education plies his trade in blissful obscurity. Bill Abt employs no stable of hotshot bond traders. He doesn’t dabble in the fanciest Silicon Valley venture capital funds, hedge funds, or the latest computer-driven brainchildren of Ivy League physicists and mathematicians.

Yet Abt, on behalf of Carthage College, in Kenosha, Wis., has returns that beat Harvard’s $37 billion endowment and most others. In the 10 years through the most recent college fiscal year, ended on June 30, 2017, the former beer company executive racked up a 6.2 percent average annual return, according to the school. That performance is better than 90 percent of his peers, based on data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers. Harvard’s endowment, the nation’s largest, averaged just 4.4 percent a year in the same period, in part because of heavy losses on investments in timber and farmland.