Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

The University's endowment has increased by the largest amount in more than three decades.

October 17, 2021

Cornell’s Endowment Posts 41.9% Return, Marking Largest Gain in Decades

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Cornell’s endowment climbed from $7.2 billion to $10 billion during the 2021 fiscal year — delivering the largest gain in more than three decades.

In a University press release, Chief Investment Officer Kenneth Miranda attributed this 41.9 percent investment return to rebounding markets — as well as the University’s five-year endowment restructuring effort, now largely complete. 

“It was an extraordinary year, partly because of a unique constellation of events,” Miranda said in the release. “We have a multiyear, almost infinite time horizon, and this money must be stewarded over generations of Cornell students, faculty, staff and research goals, through bull markets and bear markets.”

This 42 percent investment return marks a stark contrast from last year’s 1.9 percent annual return — when Cornell’s total assets fell from $7.3 billion to $7.2 billion because of volatile markets rattled by the pandemic. 

Of the Ivy League universities that have so far released their returns, Brown saw the highest returns, with a 51.5 percent increase, bringing its endowment to $6.9 billion. Cornell also lagged behind Dartmouth, which reported 46.5 percent returns.  

While Cornell has historically posted some of the lowest returns among the Ivies, the University edged out the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and Yale — which reported 41.1 percent, 33.6 percent and 40.2 percent annual returns, respectively. Columbia and Princeton have yet to release their results.

Cornell’s endowment includes more than 8,000 accounts that remain a source of financial support for faculty, research, student programs, financial aid, athletics and other programs. The University taps a portion of endowment earnings each year to support its operations — though that spending is capped at 7 percent under New York State law.

Year to year, the University distributes about 5 percent of its endowment earnings on the operating budget — below the state cap. Last year, Cornell spent an extra $15 million from the endowment to help manage its pandemic expenses, according to the release.

With these returns, Cornell’s endowment reached a record $10 billion — which comes as the University has restructured and repositioned the portfolio under Miranda’s tenure, including through enhancing liquidity and diversifying assets. This restructuring has included moving University investments to New York City to “tap into a larger pool of potential staff members and be closer to the world capital markets,” the press release reads.     

According to Miranda, “the portfolio is in a good place” as the University sees the results of the restructuring.