At a time when many college endowments have shrunk dramatically as a result of the recession, one Wesleyan-related portfolio is weathering the stormy financial climate. The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA)’s student-run endowment has performed unusually well, surpassing the S&P 500, an indicator of the health of the stock market, by 25.5 percent since October 2008.
The fund was established eleven months ago with the intention of eventually eliminating the annual $270 Student Activity Fee. Administrators and WSA representatives believe that the fund is the first student-governed endowment in the country.
Matt Ball ’08, WSA president for the 2007-2008 academic year, originally proposed the endowment—which was created from funds that were allocated to student groups by the Student Budget Committee (SBC) and remained unspent at the end of the year.
“These are funds that were requested and approved, but for whatever reason, the student group never ended up using,” said WSA Endowment Committee (WEC) Chair Charlie Kurose ’10.
While the $150,000 investment had grown by a mere .01 percent by the end of the June quarter, WSA President Mike Pernick said that even such a small increase is noteworthy.
“It’s unbelievable [the investment broke even] given the economic situation in this country,” he said.
In fact, the University’s endowment declined 22 percent between July 1 and December 31, 2008. Yale and Harvard’s endowments both shrunk by 30 percent in the first half of this year.
Pernick emphasized the importance of socially responsible investing in the creation of the endowment.
“The investment decisions [the WSA] made that reflect [Wesleyan’s] values demonstrate that it can be profitable to make the right decision,” he said.
Prospective investments undergo much scrutiny before they are chosen. An investment is first proposed by a student on the WEC and is then thoroughly investigated by administrators who also sit on the committee. Before an investment is approved, it must be voted on by the WSA as a whole.
One third of the money was placed in a socially responsible fund with PIMCO, a global account management firm, in 2008. Another third was invested in share certificates with the local credit union MidConn.
“[This investment is] a statement of support for the local community,” Pernick said.
The remaining third was tied to the Wesleyan endowment, which was the only portion to shrink over the past months.
The WEC developed their diversified investment strategy in response to the financial crisis.
“Initially we wanted to put it all in the [Wesleyan] endowment,” said Vice President for Finance and Administration John Meerts, who acts as an administrative adviser to the WEC. “But as the economic crisis developed, we decided it would be wise not to put all of our eggs in one basket.”
The leftover assets from the 2008-2009 year have yet to be allocated, and the WEC has plans to invest an additional $43,000.
“We’re looking into the possibility of green funds,” Kurose said.
The committee meets this Friday to discuss environmentally friendly investments.
In any case, the effects of these investments will not be used to fund student activities for at least another decade, provided that the endowment continues to grow.
“I am cautiously optimistic that [the endowment] can continue to do well in these tough economic times,” Pernick said.