How cool is your school?

An analysis of "Public Ivy" schools endowment fund returns reveals who really gets top grades.

(republished with permission from

In our last letter we took a hard look at recent investment performance among the eight Ivy League endowments. [See NL44 at]

As a bonus we added four “Alt-Ivys” to round it up to an even dozen.  These are all, of course, privately-funded institutions.

Now, we turn to the cream of our state-supported schools, the twelve Public Ivys.

The traditional Private Ivy endowments, including Harvard and Yale, get lots of scrutiny for obvious reasons.  They control a lot of money; they’re regarded as leaders in the art and science of investing; they have lots of Big Foot alumni; and they’re located in the media-saturated Northeast corridor.

Endowments at the big state schools, many of which are tucked away in flyover country, draw much less media attention. So, we would like to provide some, welcome or not.

A list of “Public Ivys” was composed by Richard Moll in 1985, and expanded by Howard and Matthew Greene in 2001.

Moll was a Princeton man and, as he visited schools around the country 30 years ago, he was especially charmed when he encountered traditional neoclassical architecture on the historic flagship campuses of our older public colleges. Today, of course, these schools have expanded into multi-campus behemoths, but we will generously apply the Public Ivy tag to the complete university systems.

Admissions offices at these schools, as one might expect, were very receptive to the Public Ivy phrase, and the term stuck.

We ranked these schools by endowment size; then cut the list down to a manageable twelve to correspond to our original dozen Private Ivys.  This omitted some worthy runners-up (with slightly smaller endowments); so, apologies to Michigan State, University of Florida, University of Iowa, and several other good schools which would have been included in a longer list.

These 12 Public Ivys, as one might expect, also ranked among the top 100schools on either or both of the U.S. Newsand Times Higher Education lists, which include both public and private institutions.  Many people mock these rankings as manipulated beauty contests, and many people are probably right to do so.  But, in education as elsewhere, perception is reality, and we are bound to take some notice of it.

In the Great American Pecking Order, a degree from Cornell or Columbia might slightly outrank one from Berkeley or Michigan, but not by much. And, on a prestige-per-tuition-dollar basis, the ranking almost certainly tips back the other way.

Investment performance, however, is objective, as most boards of trustees would agree; and we shall see how our state schools have done in that sphere. We’ll also consider the relationship between pay and performance among their respective chief investment officers, and how they stack up against their colleagues at the private colleges.

These are not small pots of money, either, even compared to the Private Ivys. The University of Texas controls more money than Princeton; Michigan is bigger than Columbia or Penn; and the University of California has an AUM higher than Duke or Cornell.

In terms of endowment assets, our 12 Public Ivys range from about $18 billion for the University of Texas system down to $1.5 billion at University of Minnesota.

Twelve Public Ivy endowments ranked by assets under management:


There are only about 45 U.S. endowments over $1.5 billion, so our 12 Private Ivys (in our last newsletter) and 12 Public Ivys comprise more than half of them, including the lions’ share of total assets. Taken together, their performance should give us a pretty good picture of how the country’s big, professionally-managed endowments are doing as of Fiscal Year 2012, ending last June.

What have you done for us lately?  The Public Ivy Endowments in 2012:

We’ll look at longer-term performance further along, but first: who excelled (and who didn’t) in FY 2012.

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