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Opinion
Tyler Cowen

Universities Shouldn’t Spend Their Endowments on Coronavirus Relief

Institutions of higher learning must be devoted to education and innovation above all else.

This building is for basketball, but what about the endowment?

This building is for basketball, but what about the endowment?

Photographer: Mike Mergen/Bloomberg

What are university endowments for, anyway? This debate has become more intense with the arrival of Covid-19 and the accompanying economic devastation. There is now a clear division between two visions of a university: Is it a community devoted to the well-being of its members, or an elitist institution dedicated to learning above all else?

Some think that endowments are for bad times when colleges and universities need to dip into their savings to safeguard the well-being of their communities. In that view, an endowment might be used to compensate students for hardships suffered and instruction foregone.