46 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2004
Date Written: August 1991
A common approach to the management of endowment is to treat it as if it were the only asset of the university. This approach leads to prescriptions for optimal investment and expenditure policies that are essentially the same across universities. Indeed, the resulting optimal portfolio strategies are focused almost exclusively on providing an efficient tradeoff between risk and expected return, a generic objective that is just as applicable to individuals and non-academic institutions as it is to universities. In contrast, the model developed here provides intertemporally optimal investment and expenditure rules for endowment that take account of the university's overall objectives and total resources. The explicit inclusion of other university assets in addition to endowment leads to optimal endowment portfolios that are not efficient in the sense of the risk-return tradeoff. Moreover, two universities with similar objectives and endowments can have very different optimal portfolios and expenditure patterns if their non-endowment sources of cash flow are different. The model also takes account of the uncertainty surrounding the costs of the various activities such as education, research, and knowledge storage that define the purpose of the university. As a result, the analysis reveals a perhaps somewhat latent role for endowment: namely, hedging against unanticipated changes in those costs.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Merton, Robert C., Optimal Investment Strategies for University Endowment Funds (August 1991). NBER Working Paper No. w3820. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=226740