(MoneyWatch) The investment return of college endowments barely budged during the most recent fiscal year.
The average endowment, after expenses were deducted, generated a return of -0.3 percent, according to the annual survey of the National Association of College and University Business Officers and the Commonfund Institute. The return for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2012, was significantly lower than the previous year's return of 19.2 percent. The 10-year return for the endowments was 6.2 percent.
As is usually the case, the largest endowments performed slightly better. The 71 colleges and universities with endowments of more than $1 billion in assets earned an average return of 0.8 percent. According to the study, here are the nation's 20 biggest endowments:
- Harvard University, $30.4 billion
- Yale University, $19.3 billion
- University of Texas system, $18.2 billion
- Stanford University, $17 billion
- Princeton University, $16.9 billion
- MIT, $10.1 billion
- University of Michigan, $7.6 billion
- Columbia University, $6.5 billion
- Texas A&M University system, $7.6 billion
- Northwestern University, $7.1 billion
- University of Pennsylvania, $6.7 billion
- University of Chicago, $6.5 billion
- University of Notre Dame, $6.3 billion
- University of California, $5.9 billion
- Duke University, $5.5 billion
- Emory University, $5.4 billion
- Washington University in St. Louis, $5.2 billion
- Cornell University, $4.9 billion
- University of Virginia, $4.7 billion
- Rice University $4.4 billion
According to the report, the largest endowments typically outperform smaller ones because of their "well diversified portfolios with an equity bias, the ability to make long-term commitments to less liquid strategies, access to top tier investment managers, and greater resources, including larger staffs, leading-edge technology and experienced investment committees."
The best-performing asset classes for the endowments during the past fiscal year were private equity investments in real estate, which generated a 7.5 percent return, and venture capital (6.4 percent). The worst-performing investments were international equities, which returned -11.8 percent), as well as commodities and managed futures (-10.1 percent).