The markets had a great 2014, and university endowment funds went along for the ride.

Besides the average return of 15.5% posted by college investment funds, according to the NACUBO Commonfund Study of Endowments, none of the 20 largest funds changed its leadership. That stability demonstrates just how well investments are working.

NACUBO analyzed the endowment funds of 832 U.S. colleges and universities that have $532 billion in combined assets. The rising returns allowed 74% of the institutions surveyed to say they had increased spending from their endowments to 9.2% of their budgets from 8.8% the previous year.

(See also the lists of top endowment funds from 2013, 2012 and 2011.)

NACUBO notes that the percentage gains for the endowment funds do not equate to investment returns. Instead, the percentage change reflects the net impact of:

  • Withdrawals to fund institutional operations and capital expenses;
  • The payment of endowment management and investment fees;
  • Additions from donor gifts and other contributions;
  • Investment gains or losses.

In addition the market value of real estate and other illiquid assets is estimated and can change quickly.

Check out the Top 20 Richest Colleges of 2014: The Biggest Endowments:

Rice University campus in Houston. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

20. Rice

$5.5 billion, up 14.3%

2013 Ranking. No. 20: $4.8 billion

The Rice Management Co. continued its growth under CIO Allison Thacker and COO Ronald Long. Returns for each of the last three years have been greater than 10%.

McGraw Hall on the campus of Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. (Photo: AP)

19. Cornell University

$5.8 billion, up 11.7%

2013 Ranking. No. 18: $5.2 billion

CIO A.J. Edwards continues at the helm the school’s Office of University Investments, a position he has held since 2012.

University of Virginia campus.

18. University of Virginia

$5.9 billion, up 15.1%

2013 Ranking. No. 19: $5.1 billion

Lawrence Kochard, CEO and CIO, and Kristina Alimard, COO, keep the school’s Investment Management Co. running smoothly.

At University of Washington, students walk near Suzzallo Library. (Photo: AP)

17. Washington University in St. Louis

$6.6 billion, up 17.5%

2013 Ranking. No. 17: $5.6 billion

Kimberly Walker has been the Investment Co.’s CIO for almost nine years.

Emory University in Atlanta. (Photo: AP)

16. Emory University

$6.6 billion, up 14.9%

2013 Ranking. No. 16: $5.8 billion

Mary Cahill continues as vice president of investments and CIO for Emory’s funds.

Duke fans cheering basketball team. (Photo: AP)

15. Duke

$7 billion, up 16.5%

2013 Ranking. No. 15: $6 billion

Neil Triplett leads the school’s endowment from his position as its president. Triplett first joined the Duke team in 1999 and has been in charge for 16 years.

Sather Gate on the University of California Berkeley campus. (Photos: AP)

14. University of California

$7.3 billion, up 15.8%

2013 Ranking. No. 14: $6.3 billion

Jagdeep Singh Bachher was named CIO and vice president of investments in April 2014, and the results show he was a wise choice. Previously, he was an executive vice president at Alberta Investment Management Co., one of Canada’s largest investment fund managers.

University of Chicago athletic center.

13. University of Chicago

$7.5 billion, up 13.1%

2013 Ranking. No. 13: $6.6 billion

Mark Schmid, vice president and CIO, came to the university’s endowment fund from Boeing in 2009.

University of Notre Dame historic center, popularly termed the God Quad. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

12. University of Notre Dame

$8 billion, up 17.3%

2013 Ranking. No. 13: $6.8 billion

The Investment Office is led by Scott Malpass, a graduate of the school who formed the Irving Trust Co. on Wall Street before returning to his alma mater.

The statue of Alma Mater on the campus of Columbia University. (Photo: AP)

11. Columbia University

$9.2 billion, up 12.5%

2013 Ranking. No. 9: $8.1 billion

President and CEO N.P. Narvekar has led the university’s investments since coming from Ivy League rival University of Pennsylvania.

Students parade through the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. (Photos: AP)

10. University of Pennsylvania

$9.5 billion, up 23.8%

2013 Ranking. No. 11: $7.7 billion

Peter Ammon has been CIO since April 2013. Prior to coming to Penn, he had been a director of Yale’s Investments Office.

University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. (Photo: AP)

9. University of Michigan

$9.7 billion, up 16.1%

2013 Ranking. No. 8: $8.3 billion

Erik Lundberg is CIO of the endowment fund, which was established in 1999. During that time, the fund’s assets have quadrupled.

Northwestern University Hall. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

8. Northwestern University

$9.7 billion, up 24%

2013 Ranking. No. 10: $7.8 billion

William McLean, vice president and CIO, continues in the posts he has held for 13 years.

Texas A&M University Student Rec Center. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

7. Texas A&M University

$11.1 billion, up 27.2%

2013 Ranking. No. 9: $8.7 billion

Eddie Davis is president of the school’s endowment fund.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge. (Photo: AP)

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

$12.4 billion, up 14.4%

2013 Ranking. No. 6: $10.8 billion

Seth Alexander is president of the MIT Investment Management Co.

Princeton University Campus. (Photo: AP)

5. Princeton University

$20.9 billion, up 15.4%

2013 Ranking. No. 4: $18.2 billion

The endowment is managed by the Princeton University Investment Co. Andrew Golden serves as its president.

Stanford Chapel on the Stanford University Campus in Palo Alto. (Photo: AP)

4. Stanford University

$21.4 billion, up 14.8%

2013 Ranking. No. 4 (tie): $18.6 billion

John Powers is president and CEO of the Stamford Management Co., which was formed in 1991.

Yale Coat of Arms.

3. Yale University

$23.9 billion, up 15%

2013 Ranking. No. 2: $20.7 billion

David Swensen, a pioneer in school endowment investment strategy, is CIO of the Yale Investments Office.

The Ashbel Smith building on the campus of the University of Texas. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

2. University of Texas System

$25.4 billion, up 24.3%

2013 Ranking. No. 2: $20.4 billion

Bruce Zimmerman continues as CEO and CIP of the University of Texas Investment Management Co., which was formed in 1996. It was the first investment corporation founded by a public university.

Harvard Law School graduates. (Photo: AP)

1. Harvard University

$35.8 billion, up 11%

2013 Ranking. No. 1: $32.3 billion

Harvard continues to not only be at the top but exceeds the second-ranked unversity’s endowment size by about 50%. Jane Mendillo has been president and CEO of the Harvard Management Co. since 2008. She had been CIO of Wellesley College’s endowment fund.

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