During the pandemic, many extremely wealthy people have experienced big windfalls in the size of their wealth holdings. This phenomenon has not been unique to wealthy individuals. The Ivy League Colleges, that largely serve as finishing schools for many future members of the U.S. ruling class, have also seen the wealth of their endowments dramatically increase.
In fiscal year 2021, according to a recent issue of the Dartmouth College’s alumni magazine, the endowments of the Ivy League Colleges increased an average rate of 42% for a total of about $57 billion.[i] Below is a table provided in that magazine showing the rate of return and the current value of the endowments of each Ivy League College as of the end of the fiscal year.
Dartmouth currently enrolls 6,761 students which means its endowment comes to more than $1.25 million per student. Here is the endowment value per student using the above totals for Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
These amounts per student far exceed the costs of paying for an undergraduate to be educated at one of these colleges. For Dartmouth, the estimated cost for the upcoming school year for a first year student is $83,802, an amount that is less than 7% of the size of the endowment per student.
In the same issue of the Dartmouth Alumni magazine is a short article with the title Bullish and a subtitle “Endowment sees highest return in decades.” It provides a warning from the CEO of Dartmouth’s investment office that, as summarized,
“Big returns could face scrutiny as lawmakers in the recent past have suggested that schools with huge endowments should be forced to spend a minimum percentage on financial aid to maintain their tax-exempt status.”
The CEO’s message is that to avoid having the government start taxing some of this wealth, more must be spent aiding students.
Hence, the officials at Dartmouth decided to announce what the author of the article calls “sharing the wealth” actions which will result in some of this overflowing barrel of new wealth to slowly, very slowly, trickle down. Those in charge will provide more financial aid so that “families making up to $65,000” will not be expected to pay anything for the education of their kids at Dartmouth which costs significantly more than their yearly incomes.
Perhaps most “impressive” is the hefty increase in the minimum wage for student employees from $7.75 to $11.50. Yes, you read that correctly, some student employees had been getting paid $7.75/hour. Good golly, raising their pay to $11.50/hour is an increase of 48.4%, which is 1.9% greater than the growth in their endowment!
If Dartmouth has 1,000 student employees working 20 hours a week for 40 weeks during the year, the increase in the minimum pay comes to $3 million plus payroll taxes, a pittance of slightly more than one-tenth of one percent of the growth in the endowment in 2021 of roughly $2.7 billion.
The president of Dartmouth is quoted saying that the growth in the endowment provides for “financial flexibility to not only safeguard the future but also address current pressing needs,” that presumably do not include what could be the pressing needs of student employees paid so little.
Another part of what the author calls “sharing the wealth” actions provide Dartmouth graduate students who are receiving stipends a bonus of $1,000. If all 2,205 graduate students received the $1,000, the amount comes to $2.205 million, another pittance given the size in the growth of the endowment.
The college will also be providing employees a 3% bonus, an amount that is less than half the inflation rate meaning that unless they get other pay raises, the purchasing power of what these employees earn will decline from the previous year’s level. If there are 3,100 employees and the average employee is earning $200,000 (presumably an exaggerated amount) and they get a 3% increase, the dollar sum comes to $18.6 million, less than 1% of the increase in the value of the endowment.[iv]
Adding together these trickle-down “sharing the wealth” amounts appear to hardly put a dent in the increase in the size of Dartmouth’s endowment. That means this recently acquired wealth can mostly be used to accumulate even more wealth that largely, ultimately, results from exploiting and immiserating the world’s working class and peasants often at the expense of the environment.
Part of the increase in the endowment comes from individual donors. When one donates to a college endowment, one is likely to save on one’s taxes by taking a charity deduction. For a donor of stock that has increased in value, the tax savings could be greater than the amount of money originally paid for the donated stock. By providing the charity deduction tax break, the government is helping to enable these endowments to accumulate more wealth.
Hasn’t the time come to impose greater taxes not only on the wealthy but also tax the great fortunes held by institutions in their endowments?
[i] A headscratcher is on the same page of The January/February edition of the Dartmouth College Alumni Magazine celebrating the increase in Ivy League College endowments. It features a statement from Noam Chomsky. He is described as a “Linguist, Philosopher, and Anti-Capitalist.” He had recently addressed the Dartmouth Political Union in a Zoom event and is quoted telling the attendees:
“Your generation is facing a choice, each one has to ask: ‘Do I want to get ahead, or do I want to put efforts into saving human society and millions of other species from destruction?’”
[ii] The combined size of these endowments, $193.45 billion is even greater than what the Bloomberg Billionaires Index lists as Jeff Bezos wealth ($148 billion) as of April 29. However, it falls over $50 billion short of the wealth held by Elon Musk ($249 billion.)
[iii] Student enrollments: Dartmouth https://www.dartmouth.edu/oir/data-reporting/factbook/enrollment.html
[iv] Dartmouth staff headcount in 2020 is 3,024 see: https://www.dartmouth.edu/oir/data-reporting/factbook/staff.html