University endowment reports 'solid’ return in FY 2023

Cornell’s endowment achieved a 3.6% return in the fiscal year ending June 30, adding a net investment gain of $355 million to finish the year valued at just over $10 billion, according to the Office of University Investments.

With the investment gain in FY 2023, the endowment has returned an annualized 9.3% over the past five years, exceeding its benchmark by 1.9% per year.

“The university concluded the fiscal year with a solid return relative to the environment,” said Chief Investment Officer Kenneth Miranda. “We attribute this performance to our work since 2016 to diversify the university’s investment portfolio and strategies, reduce fees, and enhance liquidity and flexibility.”

Like most university endowments, Cornell’s comprises thousands of individual accounts, the vast majority of which are restricted by donors for specific purposes for the lifetime of the university.

The endowment is invested in perpetuity to generate money that is used to support the university’s work, including financial aid and other student support, faculty salaries and stipends, facilities, academic programs and research activities. In FY 2023, the endowment provided $386 million – equivalent to about 7.1% of the university’s operating revenue – toward these kinds of expenses, money that would otherwise have had to come from other sources, such as tuition.

Endowment gains and donors’ gifts – including to endowed scholarship funds – have enabled the university to invest in financial aid at a rate that significantly exceeds the annual increase in tuition. For FY 2024, Cornell has committed a record $407 million in institutional financial aid through Cornell grants, which do not need to be repaid, continuing a trend that has seen institutional assistance rise more than 50% in the last five years.

Affordability is central to Cornell’s “To do the greatest good” capital campaign. Since its launch, the university has added nearly 850 aided students; increased grant aid by an average of $14,000 over the 2020 academic year; and as of fall 2024, most families with annual incomes up to $75,000 will receive no-loan financial aid packages.

In managing the endowment over the past year, Miranda said the investment office contended with headwinds including persistent above-normal inflation; continued monetary tightening in the U.S. and globally; and ongoing geopolitical tensions, especially the war in Ukraine.

The 3.6% investment gain in FY 2023 followed a 1.3% loss in FY 2022 and a historically high 41.9% gain in FY 2021. Miranda said his office’s investment philosophy and ongoing modernization of portfolio construction and management are designed to achieve strong returns over market cycles and through a variety of market environments.

“Our long-term orientation, sophisticated asset allocation and overall structure of the portfolio continue to build a successful long-term structure capable of withstanding unexpected changes in market conditions,” Miranda said.

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Rebecca Valli