The 2008 recession and ensuing years of austerity and unemployment may have battered personal bank accounts for many, but area colleges and universities generally managed to keep their endowment funds growing at annual double-digit rates in most years.
At Wilkes University, Misericordia University and the University of Scranton, funds increased in 2010 and 2011 by a range of 11 percent at Wilkes in 2010 to 27 percent at Misericordia in 2011.
The trend trailed off in 2012, with Misericordia’s fund growing only 2.5 percent while Wilkes and Scranton saw declines of 6.5 percent and 5.1 percent in 2012 respectively.
That flattening reflected a national trend, according to survey of 150 private and public institutions by Target Analytics. Results showed fundraising had dropped substantially after two years of solid returns in an apparent rebound from the initial shock of the recession.
The survey also found the alumni participation rate declined slightly, and a generational gap has developed. In the 1990s, private colleges retained 64 percent of alumni donors, but have only kept one-third of them this decade.
Wilkes University seemed to buck that trend. Vice President for Advancement Mike Wood noted the retention rate for alumni donors increased by 16 percent since fiscal year 2011.
Misericordia Vice President of Advancement Sue Helwig said the alumni participation rate has slipped slightly, but attributed that to the school’s steady increase in enrollment. In an email response, Helwig noted “Younger donors generally don’t give right after graduation,” and added that the average amount of a gift has increased — a trend that matches results of the national survey.
Of the private institutions that provided data, Misericordia had the smallest endowment — $25.4 million in 2012 — but also had the biggest percentage growth since 2009, seeing the fund grow by 50 percent.
The University of Scranton had the largest endowment, $125 million in 2012, but thanks to a decline from 2011 had a total growth since 2009 of 32.3 percent. Early figures for the 2013 fiscal year indicate a substantial rebound, pushing the fund up to $145.4 million.
University of Scranton spokesman Stan Zygmunt noted there are important caveats in making such comparisons, including the month of year the fund is reviewed. Zygmunt said the funds can rise or drop substantially in a single month because new gifts may be donated and money may be pulled out (for scholarships) in large sums the same month each year.
Zygmunt also pointed out that large fundraising campaigns can change dynamics. During the years reviewed for this article, he noted, Scranton was waging its largest-ever capital campaign, raising more than $129 million by 2011.
A similar situation is occurring at Wilkes, where Wood pointed out the school is running the Achieving Our Destiny campaign to pay for a new science building now under construction.
As a public, two-year institution that serves a high percentage of adult, non-traditional students, Luzerne County Community College can’t be directly compared to the other schools
LCCC raises money principally through the LCCC Foundation Inc., which had a total of $4.9 million, according to data provided by Sandra Nicholas, executive director of advancement. More than half of that, $2.9 million, is designated as endowment funds.
By percentages, LCCC’s endowment totals have boomed since 2009, when it was $597,191 — almost a 385 percent increase.
“The assets have been growing through an increase in private donations,” Nicholas wrote in an email, “so the income growth can be attributed to investment return and additional funds being donated, and the timing of the donations.”
Nicholas also provided a “return on investment” percentage for the endowment fund, isolating growth through investments from growth through donations. LCCC saw a return on investment of 2 percent in 2011, 1.9 percent in 2012, and 0.8 percent to date in 2013.
King’s College could not provide comparable data because the school had shifted financial strategies recently in what appears to be a successful attempt to recover from fiscal problems that developed a few years ago. The college had run deficits for three consecutive years, but expects a balanced budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
In one of many moves to right the fiscal ship, King’s turned over management of the endowment fund to Notre Dame University. Both schools are run by the same religious order, and the priests who came to Luzerne County to set up King’s were dispatched from Notre Dame. In an email, King’s spokesman John McAndrew said the school “has certain confidentially provisions” with Notre Dame that precluded releasing information requested.