Windfall at WashU! Endowment gains lead to $1 billion in financial aid to students

St. Louis university chancellor: 'Admitting the best students from all socioeconomic backgrounds is the first step.'
By: | October 5, 2021
Photo courtesy of Washington University

Powered by a surge in endowment returns, Washington University in St. Louis is making a significant investment in students: $1 billion in financial aid that also has accelerated its adoption of need-blind admissions.

A staggering 65% return on its Managed Endowment Pool for FY2021 is driving the university to make good on a pledge by Chancellor Andrew Martin that Washington University would look beyond the financial situation of prospective students while still giving 100% of aid to students. Less than 10% of institutions in the United States offer that kind of policy.

“Since I became chancellor nearly two years ago, becoming need-blind has been a top priority,” Martin said. “Building on the momentum that began with our previous administration, we’re finally making it happen. This is a proud moment for us as an institution and I’m grateful to all who have contributed along the way, including generous donors who have provided scholarships and other financial support for our students.”

The new model begins with this admissions cycle, which Washington University says will continue indefinitely starting with its 2026 Class.

That Gateway to Success will include $800 million in endowed funding for undergraduate students as well as $200 million that will be targeted to graduate and professional students in the Brown School, its School of Law and the School of Medicine, and other departments such as business, engineering, art and architecture, and Arts & Sciences.

But as Martin pointed out, this initiative has been overdue. Only 42% currently receive some type of need-based aid at an institution with a stellar academic reputation but high-priced tuition ($58,800) and room and board ($17,900). Its WashU pledge initiative, put in place by Martin in 2019, does cover the full cost for those families from Missouri and Southern Illinois who make $75,000 or less or are Pell Grant eligible. It has also gone test-optional to aid with admissions.

“Our work is far from done,” Martin said. “Admitting the best students from all socioeconomic backgrounds is obviously the first step. Making sure they have the support and resources to succeed once they’re here is also critical. We must redouble our efforts to provide all of our students with the tools they need to thrive and participate fully in our world-class educational experience while on campus. Continued philanthropic support from alumni, parents and friends will be critical to building on this investment in our students and ensuring access to an excellent WashU student experience for generations to come.”

Washington University is among a group of elite institutions enjoying a windfall, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The surge in endowment returns this year has been nearly unprecedented across higher education. Venture capital holdings, one of the linchpins for the rallies, have grown more than 140% alone at The University of North Carolina, which has seen endowments rise overall by 42%. Duke University’s endowment has increased 56% to $12.7 billion. And there are public institutions savoring the windfall as well—the University of Illinois and the University of California have seen strong returns of between 28% and 34%, respectively. Not every institution has been able been to sustain those programs, but those that do are trying to make good on mission statements to bolster access, diversity, equity and inclusion, while finding ways to give back.

“This has been a tumultuous time in so many ways, but these extraordinary gains and the generosity of our donors will have a positive impact on Duke for several years to come by providing additional funding for our operating budgets,” Duke President Vincent Price said in a statement. “This growth in the value of the endowment means we will now have the opportunity to engage more deeply in strategic priorities like student aid and research, and will provide much-needed support for our essential core services and activities.”

Colleges and universities with need-blind admissions that meet full demonstrated financial need

Amherst College, Barnard College, Boston College, Bowdoin College, Brown University, California Institute of Technology, Claremont McKenna College, Columbia University, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Davidson College, Duke University, Emory University, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, Georgetown University, Grinnell College, Hamilton College, Harvard University, Harvey Mudd College, Haverford College, Johns Hopkins University, Kenyon College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Middlebury College, Northeastern University, Northwestern University, Pomona College, Princeton University, Rice University, Salem College, Soka University of America, St. Olaf College, Stanford University, Swarthmore College, Thomas Aquinas College, Trinity University, Tufts University, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Pennsylvania, University of Richmond, University of Rochester, University of Southern California, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt University, Vassar College, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University, Williams College, Yale University

Those that offer need-blind admission but not full demonstrated need

Adrian College, Babson College, Baylor University, Biola University, Boston University, Brandeis University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Carnegie Mellon University, Chapman University, Cornell College, Denison University, DePaul University, Elon University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Florida State University, Fordham University, Hiram College, Jewish Theological Seminary, Julliard, Lawrence University, Lewis & Clark College, Marist College, Marlboro College, Mills College, Mount St. Mary’s College, New York University, North Carolina State University, North Central College, Penn State University, Providence College, Randolph College, San Jose State University, St. John’s College, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse University, The College of New Jersey, Tulane University, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Miami, University of New Hampshire, University of Vermont, University of Washington, Ursuline College, Wabash College, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Yeshiva University