Rich universities are getting richer

Princeton gets its biggest donation ever
Princeton gets its biggest donation ever

The wealth gap between the nation's 40 richest colleges and universities and the rest is getting wider.

That's thanks to strong investment returns and a tremendous fundraising advantage, according to credit rating agency Moodys.

Eighteen of the wealthiest schools have Aaa credit ratings -- that's a rare achievement for any businesses or government.

The top 40 include seven of eight Ivy League schools - all but Brown University - along with prestigious institutions such as Stanford, MIT and Duke. But half of the wealthiest schools were state schools, led by the universities of Texas, California and Michigan.

Related: How I got into an Ivy League school

The 40 richest schools have median cash and investments of $6.3 billion, versus only $273 million for the 500 other schools tracked by Moody's. Harvard is the richest school with $42.8 billion assets, followed by the University of Texas at $36.7 billion. The University System of Maryland is at the bottom of the list with assets of $3.4 billion.

The richest schools had average investment returns of 50% between 2009 and 2014. Returns for other schools were between 22% and 38% over the same period.

The top 40 also collected 59% of all donations made to the 500 schools during fiscal year 2014.

Related: Stanford offers free tuition to families making less than $125,000

The result: About one third of the assets held by all colleges belong to the top 10 schools, and nearly two-thirds of the assets are held by the top 40 schools.

"This growing gap will pose increasing competitive challenges for institutions that do not have the resources to invest in facilities, financial aid, and other strategic initiatives at the same level as their wealthier counterparts," said the report.

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