Redistribute the Ivy League’s endowment funds to “spread the wealth”.Their parents might object, but surely the students will roar in delight as they show their solidarity with “the other 99%”. Hoorah!
The eight Ivy League schools have less than 1 percent of U.S. college students but almost 17 percent of all endowment money. The top 3 percent of schools ranked by endowment size have more than half the funds. Five schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford University and one public institution, the University of Texas) had endowment increases last year of more than $1 billion, exceeding the total endowment of more than 90 percent of the schools (including virtually all the larger ones) publicly disclosing information.
Do rich schools use their wealth to promote upward economic mobility by disproportionately accepting low-income students? No — just the opposite. I took the 10 highest-endowed schools and looked at the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants, then compared that with the 10 lowest-endowed schools in a survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
Most Pell Grant students come from below-average-income households. In the highly endowed schools, a median of 16 percent of students received Pells, compared with 59 percent at the lowest-endowed institutions.
A student graduating from Yale or Princeton, with their roughly $2 million endowments per student, has a ticket to a well-paying job, while one graduating from the College of St. Josephin Vermont, with its $29,000 endowment per student, does not. Only 12 percent of the Yale and Princeton students have Pells, compared with 71 percent at St. Joseph.
The federal government subsidizes this academic aristocracy (made more exclusive by elite highly endowed schools giving admission preferences for children of alumni) in several ways. Big endowments such as Harvard’s probably often reap at least $1 billion annually from capital gains. They pay no income taxes on those gains; individuals pay 23.8 percent. They also pay no income taxes on dividend and interest income. The donations that form the endowments are deductible against donor income taxes, giving rich people the incentive to give to their already rich colleges, which in turn give preferences to alumni children.