Information regarding U-M investment with Selene funds
June 22, 2018
The Detroit Free Press published a story today that raises questions about University of Michigan investments made a decade ago. The university’s response is included near the end of the story. Here are the facts:
U-M investments with the Selene funds date back to a decade ago. The total investment was $95 million. As a private equity investment, it is not an investment the university moves in and out of.
The funds were established to help people keep their homes by investing in non-performing mortgages. The university has made no further investments beyond the two noted, and the funds are nearing the end of their normal lifecycle. We do not discuss individual fund performance.
Regarding questions about William M. Stephens, it is important to understand that what Stephens did, or failed to do, was to register with the SEC before representing an investment fund. While the SEC sanctioned Stephens for that failure, the SEC found nothing of concern regarding U-M’s brief interactions with Stephens.
Stephens had a very limited role and was not part of the team that actually invested university funds. He was only involved in the fundraising and had a very limited role at that. The university conducted proper due diligence, as we do with all investment opportunities, before recommending this investment.
U-M was just one of many institutions to invest in these funds.
All U-M investments are reviewed annually by an outside accounting firm as part of the university’s overall financial audit and those audits found nothing of concern. Also, the university has strong internal controls that separate important functions – such as investment accounting – outside of the Investment Office.
Information regarding Investment Office
May 4, 2018
The Detroit Free Press has raised a number of questions related to the University of Michigan Investment Office. Numerous university leaders have given interviews and shared background information in an effort to respond to the questions posed.
In the interest of transparency, the university is sharing information it shared with the reporters in March regarding their questions about an internal review of the university’s Investment Office. Free Press reporters obtained a copy of very preliminary observations made by the University Audits team in 2014. This preliminary work was never completed, after it was determined that University Audits did not have the expertise to review the institution’s investment activities. That decision was detailed in a 2016 memo. Read the response to the memo.
- There have been five external audits of university finances since 2014 and none has found any concerns with investment operations.
- Many of the initial observations made by University Audits in 2014 were misunderstandings or inaccurate.
- All of the items noted in the 2016 memo from University Audits have been addressed.
- Read the transcript of President Schlissel’s Free Press interview.
In March, as a further expression of its commitment to transparency and appropriate governance regarding investments, the university announced that it would implement several changes to its practices. The changes were announced by the Board of Regents March 29.
Last month, the university hired the highly regarded external auditing firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct a review of investment operations and procedures. The results of this review are expected by the end of June.
Endowment investments are a major portion – perhaps the major portion – of the annual financial audit done, also conducted by the auditing firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers. PwC Has found no concerns in that area.
Here is a more visual look at an overview of the university’s investment operations.
The preliminary observations from University Audits represent the very early work that is part of the normal process followed by University Audits.
It is part of our typical process that University Audits shares some initial observations and then meets with the unit to clarify those observations before proceeding. In this case, University Audits decided they did not have the expertise to complete the audit and abandoned this project very early in the process. It would be extremely unfair to report those very early observations. Many of them are not accurate or reflect misunderstandings of Investment Office processes.
Investments are not part of the core mission of the university in the same way that teaching and research are imbedded throughout the institution. This critically important, but specialized office, requires and deserves auditors who understand investment operations — so seeking that expertise outside of University Audits was the right decision.
This is not unlike having the Joint Commission review hospital operations or the NCAA review athletics compliance concerns.
The main focus of the new work by PwC will be to assess compliance with policies and procedures to determine whether they sufficiently address key operational and compliance risks.
The scope of this review will include governance, due diligence, funding commitments, conflict of interest documentation, compliance with university policies and other matters.
As noted earlier, PwC already conducts an annual financial audit and has found no concerns.
Governance and controls
There are a number of measures in place related to governance and controls:
- The investment accounting manager – housed outside the Investment Office to assure independence and enhance controls – monitors the office’s compliance with investment guidelines and limits established by the Board of Regents.
- The Board of Regents has set guidelines for asset allocation and receives monthly reports on such activity. Investment activities are reported to the board every month and reviewed by the board’s Finance, Audit and Investment Committee at least three times each year and more often as requested.
- Individual employee performance goals for investment office staff members are approved by the university’s chief financial officer and chief human resources officer.
- Investment benchmark changes are shared and discussed with the Board of Regents (including the Finance, Audit and Investment Committee), the CFO, the Investment Advisory Committee, an external university consultant and the controller’s office before being implemented.
- All new outside fund managers and initial investments are reviewed and approved by the Board of Regents.
- All fees incurred by or on behalf of the investment portfolio are monitored carefully by the Investment Office staff as part of their assessment before any investments are recommended.
- When we assess investments for their expected rate of return, that calculation is always net of all fees.
Free Press questions regarding internal review that was not completed by University Audits
Q. What prompted the original audit review of the investment office? What delayed the audit findings until June 2016 when the University Audit office had already completed its initial findings in October 2014 including a response from Erik Lundberg? I’m not clear why a change in the CFO – a turnover that happened in April 2015 – would have delayed a final resolution on the initial findings and department response completed more than a year and one-half from at least October 2014 until June 2016.
A. This review was part of the annual plan for University Audits. The conclusion of this work was delayed during the transition from one CFO to an interim and then to a new CFO. It also was delayed because of significant concerns with the accuracy of the draft audit and how best to resolve misunderstandings and inaccuracies.
Q. Has the University Audits office ever reviewed or audited the investment office before? If so, when and what were the findings? We find no record of that in publicly filed U-M Regents documents.
A. The Investment Office is audited every year as part of the annual audit of university finances by PwC. The 2014 work by University Audits was the first internal review of the Investment Office.
Q. What was similar and different in this audit review compared with other work completed by the University Audits office? You wrote it was not typical. In what ways?
A. The final outcome was a three-page memo outlining suggestions, not the typical format of a final audit, which typically contains audit recommendations and management responses to those recommendations. As noted in the June 2016 memo, University Audits staff did not have the subject expertise to complete the review of the Investment Office.
Q. Why was this audit review never included as part of the semi-annual reporting from the University Audits office directly to the Board of Regents as part of its regular communication about ongoing internal audit activities?
A. The university does not proactively make reports from University Audits public. We stopped that practice in 2015. These internal audits are designed to improve internal controls and processes within university units.
Q. The June 2016 document you sent us from Jeff Moelich said that his staff “do not possess the depth of technical knowledge necessary to effectively evaluate the structure and investment practices of the Investment Office.” So why in October 2014 did Moelich send Erik Lundberg a detailed list of audit findings and recommended fixes that included substantially new governance of the investment office and endowment? And why were those conclusions not included in this communication to the Regents you send us?
A. In this case, the internal audit was never completed. There was a preliminary review shared and it became clear from the initial observations made that University Audits did not have the expertise required to accurately and effectively assess the office.
That’s not a knock on University Audits – they do an excellent job of assessing many aspects of our core mission. But this is one of those areas that requires very specific expertise to assess, which is why our audits are done by external experts.
Once a new CFO was in place, we knew the 2014 review that was started needed to be concluded, but without the typical full report since it wasn’t possible to do internally. That led to the June 2016 memo.
Q. In documents in and around October 2014, University Audits labeled their draft findings of deficiencies in the governance structure as “high” importance in terms of potential risk to the university. This was not addressed in the June 2016 document you provided. Why was that and what was done to address and/or correct problems auditors discovered?
A. Again, from the initial observations in this area and many others, it became clear that University Audits simply did not have the expertise to accurately and effectively assess the office. They didn’t understand the business, so we’re using an external firm with that specialized expertise to conduct the assessment.
Q. Auditors in those same documents found that “due to the complexity of investment activities and their financial significance to the University, a framework for providing active oversight is necessary.” This was not addressed in the June 2016 document you provided. What action did the university’s leadership take if any in the absence of any finding from an external audit?
A. Again, from the initial observations in this area and many others, it became clear that University Audits simply did not have the expertise to accurately and effectively assess the office.
Oversight of the Investment Office was in place at the time and remains in place today. The Investment Office is supervised by the Chief Investment Officer, who is supervised by the university’s CFO. There is an Investment Advisory Committee consisting of leading investment industry experts to advise the work of this office. And there is active oversight by the Board of Regents, particularly through the Finance, Audit and Investment Committee of the board.
The FAI committee meets several times a year with the CFO, CIO and others regarding university investments. Additionally, each new investment is reviewed and approved by the Board of Regents and all follow-on investments are reported to the Board of Regents. There is an annual Report of Investments that is reviewed and approved by the Board of Regents before it is shared publicly. Finally, university investments are a major segment of the annual financial audit of the university handled by outside auditors.
Q. In the University’s response to our initial stories on your website, it was written that “University investments through the endowment get stringent oversight from the elected Board of Regents.” Yet the initial findings from the University Audits office found several areas in which the Regents were not informed, informed belatedly and did not have “a framework for providing active oversight.” Any comment?
A. Those references in the draft report – with was never finalized – are not accurate. They are not findings – they are initial observations that proved to be incorrect. That is unfortunate, but it is not unusual for a draft report to have some inaccuracies or inconsistencies. Clearing up those inaccuracies is part of the typical process of finalizing all internal audit reports.
Q. Auditors found that “without active monitoring and oversight, increase in the overall risk to the University’s portfolio may not receive proper attention of University leadership.” This was not addressed in the June 2016 document you provided. Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result?
A. As noted, the initial observations were not accurate. There were no audit findings because the audit wasn’t completed. As already described, active oversight and monitoring of university investment was in place at the time of the audit and remains in place today. The university administration and the Board of Regents take this responsibility very seriously.
Q. Auditors found that “some investments decisions are not transparent and there is no oversight to verify that transactions fall within the parameters authorized by the Board of Regents.” Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result?
A. Those references in the draft are not accurate. That is unfortunate, but it is not unusual for draft observations to have some inaccuracies or inconsistencies. The university administration and the Board of Regents have a high degree of confidence that all investment transactions fall within the approved parameters. This will be examined in the upcoming review by PwC.
Q. Auditors recommended the establishment of a governance structure (an investment committee, for example) “that provides effective oversight and monitoring of Investment Office activities.” This was not addressed in the June 2016 document you provided. Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result? Why was such a structure not implemented?
A. These were not findings. They were initial observations. An investment committee is often used in organizations without a dedicated CIO or professional investment staff. U-M has a CIO, a professional investment staff, an advisory committee of leading investment professionals and active oversight by the Board of Regents, specifically through the FAI committee. An additional investment committee would be redundant.
Q. Auditors said more needed to be done to monitor the selection and performance of fund managers and third-party marketers or placement agents. This was not addressed in the June 2016 document you provided. Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result?
A. The university already pays close attention to the performance of fund managers – it is part of the investment staff review of potential investments and the annual Report of Investments. Marketers and placement agents work for the fund managers and the university is not involved in their selection.
Q. Auditors pointed out the need for the outside review of all fees incurred by or on behalf of the portfolio for reasonableness. Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result? The June 2016 report only talks about some fees, no detail about how reasonableness is determined and no public reporting of those fees and the discussions about them.
A. Investment fees are reviewed by the Investment Office staff as part of a comprehensive review of any possible new investment. Fees are an important component of the assessment we do on all new investments. The Investment Office works to drive down fees. The rate of return we look at is always net of all fees. So we are always paying close attention to the fees and how they may affect the overall rate of return on any investment.
Q. Auditors concluded that more needed to be done to establish and enforce guidelines for timeliness and completely of information presented to the Board of Regents. Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result?
A. Those references in the preliminary report are not accurate.
Q. Auditors found that “the University may be entering into commitments that do not reflect the information presented to or approved by the Board of Regents.” Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result?
A. Those references in the draft report are, unfortunately, not accurate.
Q. Auditors concluded that “continual business and operational due diligence is not performed for all investments.” Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result?
A. Since this was a preliminary report, it is not accurate to say the auditors “concluded” anything. They raised questions. Those references in the draft report, however, are not accurate.
Q. Auditors voiced concern that “a document management action plan does not exist for the participation and compensation of the Chief Investment Officer on external boards.” You provided some documents on this issue but did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those original findings and what was done as a result?
A. As noted earlier, there is a management plan in place and that plan is reviewed with the CFO. This preliminary observation is not accurate.
Q. Auditors said they discovered that an “independent validation process does not exist to verify employees are in compliance with the Investment Office Conflict of Interest policy regarding personal trading of prohibited investments.” I see this was addressed in the email you send us. But what changed if anything? Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result?
A. As noted earlier there is a plan in place for staff to disclose any conflicts of interest or commitment. Also, as noted earlier, the university does not monitor personal investments, because the Investment Office does not make direct investments in marketable securities on behalf of the university. Those investments are handled outside of the Investment Office.
Q. Auditors found that business-class tickets were purchased without pre-approved from the office’s leadership (CIO or CFO), per diems were claimed for person travel day and when meals were provided and hotel expenses were significantly higher than typical for the University. Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result?
A. This was reviewed carefully by the CFO and the Investment Office staff was determined to be in compliance with university policy. The fact that investment office hotel stays were higher than what is typical across the entire university community as a whole is not significant or surprising, given the high-cost cities that Investment Office staff would be traveling to, compared to the much wider range for the university as a whole. Any inadvertent personal days that may have been charged as business days have been addressed.
Q. After auditors reminded the investment office staff that as “responsible fiscal stewards of University funds, the most economical hotel should be chosen with consideration of proximity and safety….,” Erik Lundberg responded in part: “It is a bit rich to presume to lecture (investment office) staff on being responsible fiscal stewards of University funds.” Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with Mr. Lundberg’s assessment and if not, why not?
A. Clearly, there was some frustration being expressed here.
Q. Auditors found that the University’s Investment Office receives gifts throughout the year from fund managers, after entering into new investments, concluding that “a staff member’s ability to make fair and objective business decisions may be compromised” by their acceptance of gifts, including trips. Gifts, according to auditors, included “bottles of wine and champagne, Tumi luggage and a Loro Piana hat. For these items, a total of approximately $75 was donated to a local charity.” Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result?
A. It is against Investment Office policy for Individual staff members to accept gifts. The Investment Office works hard to discourage the sending of gifts by notifying fund managers not to send gifts. Those fund managers do not always comply. The Investment Office has a well-established procedure for donating what it can to local charities or raffling off items with the proceeds being donated to charity. We will ask PwC to review this policy and recommend any additional steps we may be able to take.
Q. Lundberg has served on the Emerging Markets Growth Fund with U-M Investment Advisory Committee member Beverly Hamilton as a director. He has served on the Skillman Foundation with U-M Regent Denise Ilitch. And he has served on the advisory council of Alternative Investment Management Inc. which is headed up by U-M IAC adviser Jon Harris, who is the son of IAC member J. Ira Harris. Are any of these connections potentially problematic from a conflict of interest perspective from the viewpoint of the University’s top leadership and/or the Board of Regents?
A. The CIO properly reports his service on outside boards and his service is approved annually by the CFO.
Q. Auditors in their initial findings recommended “a checklist to evaluate proposed investments with funds managers to include, in part, no conflict of interest or commitment between Investment Office employees or members of the Investment Advisory Committee and fund managers, placement agents, personal accounting holdings, etc.” Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with those findings and what was done as a result?
A. After review with the Investment Office, it was determined that the proper safeguards are in place and a checklist was not necessary.
Q. In October 2014, Lundberg wrote to Moelich, the head of the internal audit office, after receiving the draft findings that “I suggest you consider lightening up on the style of the reports. The findings may come across as accusatory and vindictive to people not familiar with your style, which can be both upsetting and demoralizing to staff.” Did the university’s leadership including the Regents agree or disagree with Mr. Lundberg’s characterization of the internal auditors’ approach and what was done as a result?
A. Nothing to add.
Q. Mr. Lundberg also wrote to auditors: “Think of describing the totality of the investment function at the University for context and avoid generalized language to reduce the change that the casual reader may concluded there is something seriously wrong with just about every aspect of the process of managing the University’s endowment.” What does the university’s leadership including the Regents think of Mr. Lundberg’s advice for the audit staff and his assessment of their work?
A. Nothing to add.
Q. For the pending outside external audit, what was the original proposed scope of review? Why did the bids received not live up to that scope? We learned that the scope was not defined well enough to get meaningful bids. What is the future timeline to have an external firm complete this work? Why is it appropriate to have the Chief Investment Officer participate in the selection of the external auditing firm if it is his office who is falling under review?
A. Moving forward, the university has engaged the auditing firm of PwC to perform a review of the investment office. The university has been very happy with this auditing firm’s work. Preliminary work already has begun and the full review will get under way in April and the expected completion date is July 1.
Q. According to Lundberg’s latest disclosure list, he is a member Agility Advisory Board and the Okabena Investment Services, Inc. Is Lundberg compensated for this service? How much since the beginning of his service? Is all of it donated back to the university? Are these the same as the donation records attributed to Lundberg in voluntary support documents?
A. We’ve already shared with you his outside board work and indicated which of those positions includes compensation. As that outline indicates, he donates his compensation to a university need-based scholarship fund.
Stories regarding U-M endowment
Feb. 2, 2018
We have a number of concerns about the accuracy of the Detroit Free Press stories. There are many factual errors, despite the fact that we provided numerous interviews, documents and background to the reporters to assist them in their work.
Listed below are a number – though not all – of the errors we found. We’ve noted the correct information and additional background on the endowment that has long been available publicly. Much of it has been posted online on our website.
U-M Chief Investment Officer Erik Lundberg runs an office whose job it is to establish our investment strategy and then evaluate outside investments and investment managers. U-M invests through these outside investment managers in a wide array of investment opportunities.
In the story, “University of Michigan pours billions into funds run by contributors’ firms,” the reporters write that the university invested as much as $4 billion in the funds of top donors. Documentation does not support that statement.
U-M is not “investing” in Pittsburgh to the tune of $220 million. The reference there is to a bank the university has used that invests some of its cash in Treasury Bills and government securities. The Minneapolis reference in the story also is incorrect.
It is wrong to suggest the university’s outside investment managers only invest in the city where they are located. They invest all over the country and the world.
The story says U-M invests little in Michigan. U-M actually is one of the more active venture capital investors in the state of Michigan. The Free Press noted $40 million invested with one fund, but that fund invests nationally. However, the university’s MINTS program invests in startup companies that are based on U-M-developed technology.
MINTS has directly invested in and actively supports 21 companies spun out of the university, 10 of which are based in Michigan and employing more than 100 people with a goal of growing further into larger, successful companies. And MINTS, as well as other university programs such as the Monroe-Brown fund, continue to invest and help grow companies in Michigan and attract outside capital and talent to the state.
The university has invested significantly in Detroit and the metro area. Investment managers recently invested in three senior living facilities in the Detroit area. Another built a charter school. Another owned the Thompson building on Eisenhower (777) in Ann Arbor and built the building next door. Another owned the Hampton Inn on State Street. They have owned the Fisher and Kahn buildings in Detroit and the Detroit Free Press building. Our managers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in hotels, office buildings, shopping malls and industrial facilities in the Detroit area over the years. Another manager employs about 100 people in a company located in the Traverse City area that produces natural gas.
Contrary to the article, the university does not invest in alternative assets because of competition with rival schools. The university invests in alternative assets because they provide better investment returns than a portfolio that consists of only traditional stocks and bonds. Our investments are about 60 percent marketable securities and 40 percent illiquid alternative investments.
All Ann Arbor campus FY 2018 revenues total is $8.4 billion, not $2.1 billion as noted in the article.
The endowment established to honor the chief investment officer does not benefit the CIO directly. Those endowment funds are used by the university to defray some of his compensation so investment proceed can be used in other ways. The Free Press knows that, yet they chose to tell their readers otherwise.
And virtually all of the proceeds from those investments are put to work in Ann Arbor, Flint, Dearborn to further the university’s commitment education, research, patient care and public service in Michigan and beyond.
The Free Press story, “U-M socks away millions, irking some students,” would have you believe U-M is hoarding cash rather than helping students, which is absolutely not the case and the reporters know it.
They focused on the “sticker” price of tuition, yet 70 percent of in-state undergrads get financial aid, which lowers the actual cost.
For most in-state students getting financial aid, those students are paying less today to attend U-M than students did a decade ago. That’s how aggressive the university has been with financial aid.
No state university offers more generous financial aid to in-state students than U-M.
That occurs through our Go Blue guarantee, which provides four years of free tuition to in-state students who are admitted and have a family income of up to $65,000, within certain asset limits. That’s about half the families in the state.
The U-M is the only state university in Michigan, and among just a handful nationally, to meet full need. We are able to do that because our financial aid budget has increased at twice the rate of tuition every year for a decade. U-M donors have given more than $1 billion for student support. The highest priority in the $4 billion Victors for Michigan campaign is student support.
Endowment funding is critically important
Gifts from donors and distributions from the endowment are more important than ever to the University of Michigan.
For fiscal year 2017, the endowment provided $325 million distribution to support the university. By comparison, our funding from the State was $314M.
That’s money spent in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint to support students, faculty, academic programs, life-saving research and patient care. This includes efforts to keep college affordable.
Without donor and endowment support, annual tuition in Ann Arbor would be nearly $6,000 higher per student, for instance. The Go Blue Guarantee that offers free tuition to in-state students, is supported by the endowment.
That $325 million endowment distribution last year, coupled with a state appropriation of $314 million, is critical funding for the work we do. The University of Michigan would not be the world-class institutions it is today without strong support from the state and from donors through the endowment.
In the past 20 years, the university’s long-term investment strategy and spending policies have generated more than $4 billion in endowment distributions to support U-M’s mission while still growing the corpus at a rate that exceeds inflation, assuring that we can be even more financially secure in the future.
Investing with firms led by Investment Advisory Committee members
Over the years, the university’s investment portfolio is distributed among hundreds of different investment companies representing a strategically balanced approach to investing designed to maximize returns on those investments.
The current value of investments the university has in funds being managed by members of the university’s Investment Advisory Committee represent 2 percent of the university’s total investment portfolio.
That means 98 percent of the university’s investments are managed elsewhere; by fund managers who are not, in any way, advising the university regarding investment approaches.
The fact is, U-M alums are some of the top investment managers in the nation.
We would be foolish not to reach out to these alumni for their high-level advice and, when it fits with the university’s investment approach, to invest in their well-managed funds. The key fact is that all investment opportunities get vetted in the same fashion and we only invest with funds and managers that meet our stringent criteria.
The university invested $50 million with SSG, not $70 million, as was reported. It is silly to suggest the university invested $50 million to get a $100,000 donation from SSG. The university is planning on an investment return many hundreds of times that amount.
With the prestige of U-M, it would not be surprising at all if we were to find U-M alumni working in all of the top investment firms.
Potential or perceived conflicts are a part of every business environment. The key is to manage them effectively. Investment Advisory Committee makes no decisions regarding investments. Meetings occur twice per year and focus on investment strategy.
Oversight by regents
University investments through the endowment get stringent oversight from the elected Board of Regents. The university also publishes an annual report of investments.
Additional endowment facts:
Although our endowment is among the largest in absolute terms, the university’s endowment per student ranks 84th, lower than many private peers, which have larger endowments and smaller student enrollments.
• Harvard has a $36B endowment for a total student population of 22,000.
• U-M has an $11B endowment for 63,500 students on three campuses.
With a 20-year annualized return of 9.7 percent, U-M ranks in the top decile for long-term investment performance among university endowments.
The endowment consists of approximately 10,500 separate endowment funds. These figures represent endowment funds for U-M’s three campuses and the health system.
About 21 percent of U-M’s endowment is restricted for Michigan Medicine (U-M Health System), which serves the needs of more than 2 million patients a year.
Another 21 percent of the endowment provides student support in the form of scholarships, fellowships and other forms of direct support.
The spending rule
It is important that the annual payout from the endowment be predictable and consistent, and that it keeps up with inflation. In a sense, we need the money to last “forever.”
The university purposefully sets the payout at a rate some might call conservative so that the principal of the endowment can continue to grow at a rate that at least equals inflation while still predictably and consistently paying out 4.5 percent “interest” to fund important segments of our educational mission. It is worth noting that the Free Press reports that the average payout percentage among university endowments is 4.4 percent, which means U-M is very consistent with many others.
The higher the payout rate, the greater the risk that inflation will erode the value of the investment through time and that investment earnings won’t keep up with the payout each year.
Increasing the spending rate, as some will suggest, in order to spend more today will reduce the value of the endowment and result in lower spending in future years, in effect shifting spending to benefit the current generation at the expense of future generations.
It’s worth noting that even in 2009 – when the rate of return on the endowment was negative 23 percent (-23%) – there was a positive distribution of about 5 percent from the endowment. There also were negative returns in 2001, 2002, 2012 and 2016 – yet the distributions to support the university’s mission continued without fail.
During this difficult economic time, other universities had to lay off faculty and staff, eliminate programs and halt projects under construction. At U-M, because of careful planning and the long-term approach to managing its endowment investments and distributions, this did not occur.
Much of that support comes from distributions made from underlying endowments through programs such as the following:
Blavin Scholars program: Provides scholarship and program support for students who have experienced foster care. It was started in 2006 with a $1 million endowment. Today the value of this endowment is more than $2 million. With additional giving, the program has supported 54 scholars since 2009.
Sidney J. and Irene Shipman Scholarship: Established in 1996 with an endowment of $9.8 million to enrich the collegiate experience with interdisciplinary education and discussion and commitment to social involvement. It has provided student support every year since and today has a market value of nearly $27 million.
Brehm Scholars Program: Bill Brehm was a scholarship recipient when he attended U-M. In 2004, he made an endowment commitment of $1.05 million for a full tuition scholarship for students from Fordson High School, his alma mater. That fund has grown to a market value of $2.5 million, and more funds have been added, resulting in a total endowment to support Brehm Scholars currently worth more than $4.5 million. The fund has supported 50 students since its inception.
Bates Professorship: The Bates Professorship of the Diseases of Women and Children was created in 1898 with a $156,000 bequest from physician Elizabeth H. Bates to recognize U-M as one of the nation’s first universities to offer medical education to women. That initial support has grown to $2 million and has supported the salaries of seven different U-M Medical School professors in the last 119 years.