When it comes to depth of curriculum, breadth of research and impact on the state economy, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville lead the way among public colleges in the Bluegrass State.
When it comes to investing donors’ dollars, though, leadership might be best found outside of the state’s money centers, in college towns like Bowling Green, Morehead and Murray.
The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting examined five years’ worth of investment returns of 11 collegiate endowments across the state. The chief takeaway? Bigger is definitely not better. The public colleges in Kentucky that have amassed the largest war chests of public donations are nowhere near the winner’s circle when it comes to making money.
UK — whose $1 billion endowment is the state’s largest — ranked a mediocre sixth in generating returns on donors’ money over five years. The U of L Foundation’s ranked ninth.
The endowment that generated the best three and five-year returns as of Dec. 31 was the College Heights Foundation at Western Kentucky University. The smaller of two endowments at Western, College Heights posted an average annual return of 7.4 percent on its investments from 2011 through 2015. It was also the second-best performer in 2015 alone, when a flat stock market, low bond yields and plunging commodity prices sent most endowment balances into reverse.