Meet the managers and holdings behind top university endowments

University endowments set records in the 2021 fiscal year largely on the back of private market investments. But it wasn’t the supersized funds managed by the likes of Harvard, Stanford and Yale that saw the largest returns.

Of the endowments that have reported earnings to date, none were part of the Ivy League, according to endowment returns data tracked by Pensions & Investments. Two were led by managers who trained under David Swensen, the influential Yale endowment chief who died earlier this year. All of the top five saw returns of more than 55% for the fiscal year, thanks in large part to the giant gains made by holdings in venture capital and other alternative assets.

Here’s a rundown of the people and investments that posted the biggest returns.


Washington University (St. Louis) recorded a return of 65% for the fiscal year ended June 30, which boosted its assets to $15.3 billion. Scott Wilson has led the endowment since 2017; before that he was CIO at Grinnell College.

Under Wilson, Washington’s private-market investment has significantly grown, and the segment comprised 45% of university’s portfolio as of last year.

The endowment holds stakes in vaccine developer Moderna, meal delivery company Doordash and Apollo Global Management, which are all now publicly traded. It has also invested in the emerging space economy, with holdings in Axiom Space and SpaceX.

Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine) saw its endowment grow to $2.7 billion on the back of a 57.4% return in the fiscal year. 

CIO Paula Volent had managed the endowment since 2000, but she stepped down in July and was succeeded by K. Niles Bryant. 

Volent earned her MBA at Yale and worked at the university’s endowment under Swensen. She was also influenced by hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller, who sits on Bowdoin’s investment committee.

Private equity and venture capital accounted for about 35% of Bowdoin’s holdings as of last year. The endowment has allocated funds to one of Sequoia’s US seed funds, according to PitchBook data, and has reportedly also invested in the firm’s China affiliate. 

Vanderbilt University (Nashville) reported a 57.1% return for the year and increased its holdings to $10.9 billion. Anders Hall, who formerly led Duke’s public securities portfolio, has headed Vanderbilt’s endowment since 2013. 

The school’s endowment has a 35% allocation to private capital, up from 26% last year. Vanderbilt has kept details about its holdings largely under wraps, but it announced a commitment to VC firm Harlem Capital Partners in late 2019.

Duke University (Durham, N.C.) saw its endowment, known as DUMAC, swell to $12.7 billion following a 55.9% return for the fiscal year. Neal F. Triplett, president of DUMAC, has been with the university for more than 20 years.

Duke’s portfolio includes several prominent tech companies that have gone public in the past two years, including Xpeng, Roblox and Asana. The school doesn’t break out its private equity holdings, but nearly half of the endowment is invested in both public and private equities.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Mass.) recorded a 55.5% return that pushed its endowment to $27.4 billion. The school plans to put the good fortune to use by increasing its endowment payout by 30% to fund financial aid, research infrastructure and campus improvements. 

MIT Investment Management Co., which oversees the endowment, is led by Seth Alexander, who also previously worked at Yale under Swensen. The endowment has holdings in tech companies such as Salesforce, Shopify and Upwork.

Featured image by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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Post Author: Adam Jacob

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