Reflecting and projecting Vassar finances: 2020 fiscal preview

Courtesy of Vassar Finance and Administration

As June 30, the end of the 2020 fiscal year, edges nearer, students can anticipate a status report on the College’s finances. Each year, Vassar releases its financial statements, which include measures of its assets, liabilities, revenues and expenses. There’s a lot to sift through in those reports, but here are a few of the most important things to watch as we head into next school year.

Endowment

These are the funds that the College invests to support the institution. Most of these funds come from gifts, but some of the returns generated by the endowment itself are reinvested. As of June 30, 2019, Vassar’s total endowment totaled $1.117 billion. That’s relatively large compared to a number of other colleges; Vassar easily ranks in the top 100 U.S. colleges by endowment (National Association of College and University Business Officers, “Public NTSE Tables,” 02.04.2020). Vassar relies on its endowment as a continuing, relatively stable source of revenue. When it falls by too much, such as in 2016 when it was down over $54 million, the institution’s financial security is placed in jeopardy. The 2016 endowment loss generated fears that the institution might cut financial aid, possibly even eliminating the need-blind admissions policy (The Miscellany News, “Bradley talks public health, budget,” 02.01.2017). Luckily, the endowment fared better in 2017, easing worries. The endowment has grown steadily for several years since, posting a 3.2 percent increase from 2018-19. However, endowment gifts received in 2018 (a key source of endowment growth) were more than double those received in 2019. The return on the endowment (how much the College’s investments earned) was also down by almost $13 million. Regardless of these yearly fluctuations, Vassar’s withdrawals from the endowment are about the same every year. In 2019, the College withdrew $54.7 million, compared to $53.4 million in 2018.

Oil Investments

As concerns about climate change continue to increase, much attention has fallen on Vassar’s investments in oil and other fossil fuels. Anyone who walks past the College Center will see a sign demanding the College divest. However, the Board of Trustees Investor Responsibility Committee voted unanimously against divestment in 2018 (Vassar, “Op-ed: Lessons Learned from Vassar’s Divestment Decision,” 03.06.2018). According to 2019 financial statements, “[O]il and gas partnerships…are intended to provide growth, income, and diversification benefits.” Vassar currently has $71 million invested in “real estate, oil, and gas partnerships.” What proportion of that is invested in fossil fuels (as opposed to real estate) is not publicly available. However, this class of investments has fallen by $7.4 million since 2018.

Financial Aid

Equality of access is a core value of the College. Vassar consistently ranks in the top 10 colleges in the country in terms of financial aid and accessibility (as per the New York Times and Princeton Review) (The Miscellany News, “VC still prioritizes aid after decline in funds,” 02.07.2017). In 2019, aid totaled $69.3 million, with over 60 percent of students receiving aid. Revenue from tuition, room and board was $106.3 million, making it an important source of revenue for Vassar. That’s up $10.5 million compared to 2018. The College also awarded $1.3 million less in aid in 2019 compared to 2018.

Construction Projects

Vassar has several new construction projects planned. A hotel and conference center and new admissions house are two examples (Poughkeepsie Journal, “Vassar College’s plan for hotel, institute faces zoning hurdles, mixed public opinion,” 01.10.2020). The College has also committed to go carbon neutral by 2030. These projects are proving costly: $4.6 million was allocated for campus construction in 2020. This number is likely to increase as construction gets underway.

Fun Facts

Ever wondered what Vassar’s library books are worth? The answer is $61.5 million. Artwork and collectibles are worth another $62.2 million. Other fun facts: The endowment consists of about 1,000 individual funds and Vassar’s financial statements are 35 pages long.

The question remains as to how spending will transform as the College commits to various campus projects and continues to grow its endowment. These questions will be answered once the 2020 report is released this fall. Stay tuned.

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