America's biggest college endowments get even bigger

harvard university endowments
Harvard University's endowment was worth more than $32 billion last year, beating out other universities by billions of dollars.

College endowments made a comeback last year, gaining an average 11.7% in the 12 months that ended June 30 amid a rally in stocks.

The gains helped colleges to recover from the average 0.3% loss incurred in fiscal 2012, and built on a nearly 20% average gain in the prior year, according to the Commonfund Institute and the National Association of College and University Business Officers which compiled data from 835 U.S. college and universities.

Harvard University's endowment was worth more than $32 billion last year, beating out other universities by billions of dollars.

Other top endowments included Yale University with $20.8 billion, the University of Texas system with $20.4 billion and Stanford University with $18.7 billion.

Related: Yale beats Harvard on endowment returns

Harvard's endowment earned an 11.3% investment return for the 2013 fiscal year, while Yale's climbed 12.5%, according to prior university reports.

The gains were good news for schools, helping them to continue to rebuild from deep market losses during the recession, said Kenneth Redd, director of research and policy analysis at NACUBO.

Is the cost of college crippling?

Many schools dip into their endowments to fund financial aid and other student and faculty programs, and two-thirds of the schools surveyed said they spent more of their endowment money last year.

Related: How much will that college really cost?

For example, Harvard's endowment is up only 6.2% even though it's investment returns were nearly double that amount.

With the stock market getting bumpier again, it's unlikely schools will enjoy such strong returns this year.

"The stronger market for 2013 was a huge benefit, but its hard to know at this point if that will continue," Redd said. "The volatility of the last 10 years seems to have reemerged."

20 largest university endowments
Rank School Endowment Change from 2012
1 Harvard University $32,334,293,000 6.2%
2 Yale University $20,780,000,000
3 University of Texas System $20,448,313,000
4 Stanford University $18,688,868,000
5 Princeton University $18,200,433,000
6 Massachusetts Institute of Technology $11,005,932,000
7 Texas A&M University System and Foundations $8,732,010,000
8 University of Michigan $8,382,311,000
9 Columbia University $8,197,880,000
10 Northwestern University $7,883,323,000
11 University of Pennsylvania $7,741,396,000
12 University of Notre Dame $6,856,301,000
13 University of Chicago $6,668,974,000
14 University of California $6,377,379,000
15 Duke University $6,040,973,000
16 Emory University $5,816,046,000
17 Washington University in St. Louis $5,651,860,000
18 Cornell University $5,272,228,000
19 University of Virginia $5,166,660,000
20 Rice University $4,836,728,000
Note: The change in endowment value reflects investment returns, additions from donor gifts and other contributions, fee payments and university withdrawals during the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013.
Source: 2013 NACUBO-Commonfund Study of Endowments

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