Mortar Board

With the stock market trending upward, so too is the value of local college endowments.

Liberty University reported the most significant increase among Lynchburg-area schools with a 19.2 percent positive change in the market value of its endowment, which jumped from slightly below $1.1 billion to nearly $1.3 billion from fiscal year 2016 to 2017.

Lynchburg College, meanwhile, saw the value of its endowment jump by 8.1 percent, climbing from $96.5 million to $104 million over the same time period.

Both schools participated in the annual study by the National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund Institute on college finances, which includes their endowment numbers and was released last month. The study tracks endowment fluctuation by examining the returns on market investments, withdrawals for expenses, and donor contributions.

A total of 809 public and private colleges in the U.S. and Canada participated in the study.

While Randolph College and Sweet Briar College did not participate in the report, both schools saw their endowments grow from 2016 to 2017. Randolph’s endowment, currently at about $149 million, grew by 11.9 percent, according to James Manaro, vice president for finance and administration

Sweet Briar, meanwhile, saw a 14.2 percent bump, to $73.9 million at the end of fiscal year 2017, per numbers provided by Rocky Query, SBC interim vice president for finance and administration.

Liberty’s endowment growth is the highest, in terms of percentage — though not dollar value — among the 32 Virginia schools and affiliated foundations that participated in the NACUBO study.

By percentage, Liberty’s growth also is among the highest nationally of schools in the study.

“Our endowment has been growing by that much just about every year,” Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. said. “We’ve been an outlier for a long time among universities in that regard.”

Falwell said LU’s success in online education allowed the school to build a strong financial base.

“We were able to build a name for Liberty before most schools even started online programs,” Falwell said.

He added online delivery of education means less brick and mortar costs for the school.

For LU, this was the first time the school participated in the study on endowment fluctuation. Of the 809 participating schools in the report, LU’s endowment ranked 74th in terms of monetary value.

Only 12 percent of the survey participants — 97 schools — were over the $1 billion mark.

Closely trailing LU’s growth, in terms of percentage, in the statewere Virginia Commonwealth University at 18.2 percent and Virginia Tech at 18.1 percent.

According to the study, the largest endowments reported in the state are the University of Virginia with a $6.3 billion endowment at the end of fiscal year 2017; the University of Richmond at $2.3 billion; and VCU at $1.8 billion.

Average growth for Virginia schools that participated in the study was 10.8 percent.

Though Lynchburg College’s endowment grew by 8.1 percent, Steve Bright, the school’s vice president of business and finance, cautioned against reading too much into one year’s report. He emphasized planning for the long-term future of the school with market fluctuations year-to-year.

“Managing an endowment, with the right philosophy, and looking to the future and future generations is critical,” Bright said. “We have an unlimited horizon.”

He noted positive years help offset others where donations are lean, or investments are down.

Manaro said Randolph did not participate in the endowment study because of a time crunch to report the data but has submitted information in the past. The last year Randolph participated was in 2014.

“It was not a benefit, or a loss, because we use other measures for comparison,” Manaro explained.

Similarly, Sweet Briar College last participated in the endowment study in 2013.

"Sweet Briar College's investment performance has benefited from less exposure to alternative investment strategies with its core positions consisting of domestic and global equities performing well," Query wrote in an emailed statement.

The college also has been buoyed by significant donations in the wake of nearly closing in 2015.

Virginia University of Lynchburg did not respond to an inquiry about its endowment. VUL has not participated in prior endowment studies, according to a News & Advance review of recent reports.

An audit of VUL, available online, showed its endowment at $1.4 million as of June 30, 2016.

According to a news release issued with the study, the average overall endowment growth from fiscal year 2016 to 2017 was 12.2 percent, up from -1.9 percent reported in the 2016 fiscal year. According to NACUBO, the reported 10-year average for college endowment growth is 4.6 percent.

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