Skip to main content

Four years of Ivy League Tax Returns

I love the Internet.  Thirty years ago, I couldn't have imagined being able to look up several years of tax returns for the Ivy League Colleges and Universities (let alone being interested in them.)  But Guidestar (a great site you should check out, in case you don't know it) comes to the rescue.  The documents are pdf, unfortunately, but you learn a lot by inputting the data manually into a spreadsheet.

For your information: By law, all universities that receive Title IV funding must make tax returns available to the public, so there is nothing clandestine about this.

The tax returns can show you, albeit at a very high level, at how the Ivy League Institutions generate revenue, and how they spend it. To no one's surprise, salaries and benefits dominate at almost all colleges and universities, and if you're really curious, the returns list in detail how much the officers and highest paid non-officers make.

But as I once suggested, the most interesting thing is the massive investment return these institutions generate; even the "poorest" of them--Brown University--averaged about $124 million in investment return over these four years.  Collectively, the investment return of these eight institutions averaged over $550 million per year, for a grand total of $18 billion over the four years. To put that in some perspective, there are about 1,553 private, not-for-profit, four-year colleges and universities in America with revenue data in IPEDS; 1,506 of them had total revenues of less than $550 million in 2013.

Take a spin around this.  It's fairly interesting for the most part, and very interesting for one reason: Princeton's 2013 data (from the 2012 Tax Return, which I've put here in case you want to take a look.)  The return shows an operating deficit of almost $1.3 billion, driven by an investment loss of over $800 million. I asked an expert on university finance (not affiliated with my own institution) about this, and here is what he said:

We were doing some analysis using IPEDS finance info and it showed some really weird results, with Princeton being the strangest of all.  It caused me to pull their audited financial statements and examine them.  Here’s a link to the statements in case you’re curious.  Nothing weird showed up in the statements so I attributed the problem to IPEDS and the Department of Education.  Now having looked at the 990, I believe Princeton has suffered some turnover among its finance staff and the folks doing their reporting don’t know what they’re doing.  As you will see, the financial statements appear to be quite different from what was reported in the tax return.

So, take this, and everything you read from publicly available data, with a grain of salt.




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Baccalaureate origins of doctoral recipients

Here's a little data for you: 61 years of it, to be precise.  The National Science Foundation publishes its data on US doctoral recipients sliced a variety of ways, including some non-restricted public use files that are aggregated at a high level to protect privacy. The interface is a little quirky, and if you're doing large sets, you need to break it into pieces (this was three extracts of about 20 years each), but it may be worth your time to dive in. I merged the data set with my mega table of IPEDS data, which allows you to look at institutions on a more granular level:  It's not surprising to find that University of Washington graduates have earned more degrees than graduates of Whitman College, for instance.  So, you can filter the data by Carnegie type, region or state, or control, for instance; or you can look at all 61 years, or any range of years between 1958 and 2018 and combine it with broad or specific academic fields using the controls. High school and indep

The Highly Rejective Colleges

If you're not following Akil Bello on Twitter, you should be.  His timeline is filled with great insights about standardized testing, and he takes great effort to point out racism (both subtle and not-so-subtle) in higher education, all while throwing in references to the Knicks and his daughter Enid, making the experience interesting, compelling, and sometimes, fun. Recently, he created the term " highly rejective colleges " as a more apt description for what are otherwise called "highly selective colleges."  As I've said before, a college that admits 15% of applicants really has a rejections office, not an admissions office.  The term appears to have taken off on Twitter, and I hope it will stick. So I took a look at the highly rejectives (really, that's all I'm going to call them from now on) and found some interesting patterns in the data. Take a look:  The 1,132 four-year, private colleges and universities with admissions data in IPEDS are incl

So you think you're going back to the SAT and ACT?

Now that almost every university in the nation has gone test-optional for the 2021 cycle out of necessity, a nagging question remains: How many will go back to requiring tests as soon as it's possible?  No one knows, but some of the announcements some colleges made sounded like the kid who only ate his green beans to get his screen time: They did it, but they sure were not happy about it.  So we have some suspicions about the usual suspects. I don't object to colleges requiring tests, of course, even though I think they're not very helpful, intrinsically biased against certain groups, and a tool of the vain.  You be you, though, and don't let me stop you. However, there is a wild card in all of this: The recent court ruling prohibiting the University of California system from even using--let alone requiring--the SAT or ACT in admissions decisions next fall.  If you remember, the Cal State system had already decided to go test blind, and of course community colleges in