The 10 Colleges with the Largest Endowments

University endowments may not seem like the most exciting of topics to explore when you’re undergoing the admissions process, but it’s an important one nonetheless. These funds are in many ways responsible for making schools what they are, in terms of the opportunities they provide to students. They’re also responsible for the all-important financial aid package you receive.

 

Institutions with large endowments can typically give out larger financial aid awards than those with smaller ones. However, it’s not just the size of the endowment that matters — it also matters how much money the school has per student. In others words, a school with a huge endowment may actually have less money to spend for each student if the student body is huge, too. On the flip side, a school with a smaller endowment could potentially have more money to delegate to each student if the student body is smaller, too.

 

Here, we’ll look at the 10 universities in the United States with the largest endowments, factors that contribute to their wealth, and how the institutions use them. 

 

What Exactly is an Endowment?

 

Endowments are made up of financial assets that fund many of a college’s activities, including teaching, financial aid, research, and many other areas. The primary source of endowments is charitable donations from individuals or organizations. 

 

Donors can specify how they want their money to be spent; for example, a donor may request that their money go towards financial aid funds or athletics. 

 

Endowments are generally invested in the stock market, and follow a very strict set of guidelines to maximize the most payoff with the lowest risk. This is one of the reasons universities can’t just “dip into” their endowment when times are tough.

 

Largest College Endowments

 

1. Harvard University: $40.9 billion

Endowment per Student: $1,546,888

Cost of Attendance: $72,391

Average Financial Aid Award: >$53,000

 

The oldest institution of higher learning in the United States is also the wealthiest in the world. However, because Harvard has a large student body, the university has a smaller endowment per student than some of its peers. Harvard has had 384 years to build its enormous endowment, and with donors like Bill and Melinda Gates, John A. Paulson, David Rockefeller, Mark Zuckerberg, and many others giving, in some cases, many millions of dollars, it grows substantially every year.

 

2. Yale University: $30.31 billion

Endowment per Student: $2,270,702

Cost of Attendance: $74,950

Average Financial Aid Award: >$50,000

 

Like Harvard, Yale has a huge, steadily growing endowment. Some of Yale’s biggest donors include Charles B. Johnson and Zhang Lei. Yale has come under criticism for making controversial investments with its endowment, such as fossil fuel businesses and private prisons. It also invested in several tech giants back when they were startups.

 

3. Stanford University: $28.9 billion

Endowment per Student: $1,635,946

Cost of Attendance: $78,218

Average Financial Aid Award: $52,030

 

Stanford’s endowment provides funding for research, programs across its seven schools, financial aid — enabling many students to graduate debt-free — and more. The university boasts notable alumni who are leaders in Silicon Valley and beyond, many of whom contribute substantially to Stanford’s sizable funds. The Hewlett Foundation, Phil Knight, and Dorothy and Robert King are just some examples of major donors.

 

4. Princeton University: $26.6 billion

Endowment per Student: $3,166,813

Cost of Attendance: $75,210

Average Financial Aid Award: $56,500

 

Princeton has the largest endowment per student in the world, although it does not have the largest total endowment overall. Donations from Jeff Bezos, Meg Whitman, Kwanza Jones and José E. Feliciano, and Bijan and Sharmin Mossayer-Rahmani fund a variety of programs and activities, such as campus expansions, financial aid, and more.

 

One of Princeton’s most notable endowment investments is its famed art museum, which features the artwork of Andy Warhol, Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, and Claude Monet, along with other notable artists.

 

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): $18.4 billion

Endowment per Student: $1,533,234

Cost of Attendance: $73,160

Average Financial Aid Award: $47,593

 

MIT made headlines when it received an unrestricted $140 million donation from an anonymous alum. But this is far from the only generous gift the school has received. Patrick and Lore Harp McGovern, Stephen Schwarzman, F.W. Olin Foundation, and others have also made huge donations to the more than 3,800 funds that make up the school’s endowment.

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6. University of Pennsylvania: $14.9 billion

Endowment per Student: $629,826

Cost of Attendance: $75,351

Average Financial Aid Award: $54,301

 

Fueled by gifts from the likes of Walter H. Annenberg, Raymond G. and Ruth Perelman, and the W.P. Carey Foundation, Penn’s endowment consists of more than 7,000 funds that contribute to the many institutions within the university, including schools and medical facilities.

 

7. University of Notre Dame: $13.8 billion 

Endowment per Student: $906,400

Cost of Attendance: $73,683

Average Financial Aid Award: $47,800

 

From Joan Kroc to Kenn and Pamela Ricci to John W. “Jay” Jordan to Tom and Kathy Mendoza, the University of Notre Dame’s donors are many. The university’s largest area of spending is financial aid, but that’s not the only application of its endowment — it also funds research, teaching, its service mission, and study abroad opportunities, among other programs and activities. 

 

8. Columbia University: $11.26 billion

Endowment per Student: $394,763

Cost of Attendance: $76,801

Average Financial Aid Award: $41,752

 

One of the main applications of Columbia University’s endowment is allowing the university to maintain need-blind admissions by funding financial aid. Donors like Florence Irving, Dawn Greene, John W. Kluge, P. Roy and Diana Vagelos, and others have also made contributions to support medical and scientific research, libraries, special programming, professorships, and more.

 

9. Northwestern University: $10.8 billion

Endowment per Student: $447,947

Cost of Attendance: $74,376

Average Financial Aid Award: $54,303

 

Donors like Jeff Ubben and Louis Simpson have made large contributions to Northwestern. Along with the typical institutional expenses, the university also uses the funds toward the goal of increasing diversity, building partnerships abroad, and supporting the local community.

 

10. University of Chicago: $8.5 billion

Endowment per Student: $512,297

Cost of Attendance: $76,302

Average Financial Aid Award: $55,458

 

The University of Chicago’s major charitable gifts come from donors like Kenneth C. Griffin and David G. Booth to support financial aid, leadership in education and research, faculty, specific programs and departments, and much more. According to its report, for the 2019 fiscal year, the endowment funded nearly 17% of the operating budget of the university.

 

There has been some controversy surrounding the university’s endowment. For example, in 2018, the Pearson family initiated a lawsuit attempting to rescind a substantial donation to fund the Pearson Institute — which is currently operational — after dissatisfaction with the university’s activities.

 

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.