The wild ride of the markets had a huge impact on college investment funds in 2015, with the average increase at 2.4%, a far cry from the 15.5% posted in 2014.

Even with 10-year average returns down to 6.3%, nearly four in five endowment funds reported they increased spending over the previous year.

The data comes from the NACUBO Commonfund Study of Endowments, which reports on college investment funds each year. This year, there was some shuffling among the elite (top 20) funds, and a couple of them changed leadership. Still, stability remained the rule among college endowments.

NACUBO analyzed the endowment funds of 812 U.S. colleges and universities that have $529 billion in combined assets, with the average endowment at $651.5 million. Still half of the institutions studied had less than $115 million. The median spending increase was 8.8%, easily outpacing the inflation rate.

(See also the lists of top endowment funds from 2014, 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 for 2015:

Rice University campus. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

20. Rice

$5.6 billion, up 0.5%

2014 Ranking, No. 20: $5.5 billion

Allison Thacker continues as president and chief investment officer of the endowment fund, positions she has held since 2011.

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

19. Cornell University

$6 billion, up 2.5%

2014 Ranking, No. 19: $5.8 billion

CIO A.J. Edwards, in charge since 2012, continues at the helm the school’s Office of University Investments.

University of Virginia campus.

18. University of Virginia

$6.1 billion, up 3.9%

2014 Ranking, No. 18: $5.9 billion

Lawrence Kochard, CEO and CIO, has been in charge since 2011. Previously, he was at Janus Capital and was CIO of Georgetown’s endowment fund. Kristina Alimard continues as COO.

Emory University campus. (Photo: AP)

17. Emory University

$6.6 billion, no change

2014 Ranking, No. 16: $6. billion

Emory vice president for investments and CIO is Mary Cahill. She has held those roles for 15 years.

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

16. Washington University in St. Louis

$6.8 billion, up 2.6%

2014 Ranking, No. 17: $6.6 billion

For nearly a decade, Kimberly Walker has helmed the endowment office as CIO.

Duke fans cheering basketball team. (Photo: AP)

15. Duke

$7.2 billion, up 3.7%

2014 Ranking, No. 15: $7 billion

Neil Triplett has been piloting the endowment office for about 17 years.

University of Chicago campus. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

14. University of Chicago

$7.6 billion, up 0.1%

2014 Ranking, No. 13: $7.5 billion

Mark Schmid, vice president and CIO, has led the 29-member investment team for eight years.

Students walking on the campus of UCLA. (Photo: AP)

13. University of California

$8 billion, up 8.3%

2014 Ranking, No. 14: $7.3 billion

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

Notre Dame Mascot and fans cheering at a football game. (Photo: AP)

12. University of Notre Dame

$8.6 billion, up 6.6%

2014 Ranking, No. 12: $8 billion

Scott Malpass, vice president and CIO of the Investment Office, returned to his alma mater in 1989.

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

11. Columbia University

$9.6 billion, up 4.5%

2014 Ranking, No. 11: $9.2 billion

President and CEO N.P. Narvekar leads the university’s investments. Formerly, he had been at Ivy League rival University of Pennsylvania.

University of Michigan campus. (Photo: AP)

10. University of Michigan

$9.9 billion, up 2.3%

2014 Ranking, No. 9: $9.7 billion

Erik Lundberg continues as CIO of the endowment fund.

University of Pennsylvania.

9. University of Pennsylvania

$10.1 billion, up 5.8%

2014 Ranking, No. 10: $9.5 billion

Peter Ammon left Yale in 2013 to become CIO at Penn’s endowment.

Northwestern University Hall. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

8. Northwestern University

$10.2 billion, up 4.2%

2014 Ranking, No. 10: $9.7 billion

Stability remains, with William McLean, vice president and CIO, continuing in the posts he has held for 14 years.

Texas A&M football game. (Photo: AP)

7. Texas A&M University

$10.4 billion, down 5.6%

2014 Ranking, No. 7: $11.1 billion

Eddie Davis is president of the school’s endowment fund, a job he has held since 1993.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Photo: AP)

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

$13.4 billion, up 3.6%

2014 Ranking, No. 6: $12.4 billion

Seth Alexander is president of the MIT Investment Management Co.

Stanford Chapel on the Stanford University campus. (Photo: AP)

5. Stanford University

$22.2 billion, up 3.6%

2014 Ranking. No. 4: $21.4 billion

Robert Wallace took the helm last March as president and CEO of the Stanford Management Co., replacing John Powers, who resigned after nine years in charge.

Princeton University Campus (Photo: AP)

4. Princeton University

$22.7 billion, up 8.2%

2014 Ranking, No. 5: $20.9 billion

Andrew Golden serves is president of the Princeton University Investment Co.

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

3. University of Texas System

$24 billion, down 5.3%

2014 Ranking, No. 2: $25.4 billion

Bruce Zimmerman has been at the helm for nine years.

Yale Coat of Arms.

2. Yale University

$25.7 billion, up 7%

2014 Ranking, No. 3: $23.9 billion

David Swensen, a pioneer in school endowment investment strategy, is CIO of the Yale Investments Office. He has been with the office for more than 30 years.

Harvard Law School graduates. (Photo: AP)

1. Harvard University

$36.4 billion, up 1.6%

2014 Ranking. No. 1: $35.8 billion

Stephen Blyth succeeded Jane Mendillo as president and CEO of the Harvard Management Co. Blyth has been with the endowment fund since 2006.

— Related on ThinkAdvisor: