Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


University Endowments

What can’t they buy?

Did your university have a climbing wall, hot tubs, or en-suite bathrooms?

Mine sure didn’t. And I didn’t miss ’em. Then again, it didn’t have a massive endowment either. Maybe because they built a giant sports complex that I didn’t use. I’m sure that exercise equipment is the surest way to attract top-notch students… or not. So do we have a bunch of picky, bratty kids, or parents with massive expectations as they prepare to shell out years of savings? From the NY Times:

BEREA, Ky. — Berea College, founded 150 years ago to educate freed slaves and “poor white mountaineers,” accepts only applicants from low-income families, and it charges no tuition.

“You can literally come to Berea with nothing but what you can carry, and graduate debt free,” said Joseph P. Bagnoli Jr., the associate provost for enrollment management. “We call it the best education money can’t buy.”

Actually, what buys that education is Berea’s $1.1 billion endowment, which puts the college among the nation’s wealthiest. But unlike most well-endowed colleges, Berea has no football team, coed dorms, hot tubs or climbing walls. Instead, it has a no-frills budget, with food from the college farm, handmade furniture from the college crafts workshops, and 10-hour-a-week campus jobs for every student.

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I would send my kids there in a second. One of my favorite things about grad school at Cambridge (as opposed to undergrad here in the states) was the de-emphasis on sports. I guess it just depends upon whether my income will be low enough to qualify.

Not only that, they’re building furniture and gardening. Operating as a community. Real work, not just hitting the bar after skimming an assignment.

How do endowments really operate? In a couple of months, we’re publishing a book called Mission and Money, which examines the higher education industry as a whole, how they get their money, and how they spend it. Should be interesting.

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