Researchers Set Out to Determine How Much Endowments Invest With Diverse Managers. Most Refused to Participate.

The Knight Foundation surveyed 50 of the wealthiest college and university endowments on manager diversity — with limited success.

Yale University campus (Craig Warga/Bloomberg)

Yale University campus

(Craig Warga/Bloomberg)

Thirty-four of the wealthiest colleges and universities in the U.S. declined to participate in a Knight Foundation study looking at the diversity of the asset management firms managing their endowments.

On Thursday, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the New York University Stern Center for Business and Human Rights are set to release results from ongoing research about the diversity of endowments’ asset managers. Specifically, the research examines the extent to which the wealthiest 25 public and 25 private U.S. colleges and universities invest their endowment assets with firms owned by women and people of color.

Out of the 50 endowments (with a cumulative $587 billion in assets under management) asked to participate in the study, only 12 participated fully, while four schools self-reported their diversity statistics. The remaining 34 “refused to disclose their diversity statistics,” the Knight Foundation said.

“As Knight’s past research has consistently shown, a lack of transparency continues to be an enormous barrier to increasing diversity and equity in the asset management industry. You can’t improve what you don’t measure,” Ashley Zohn, vice president of Knight Foundation’s learning and impact program, said in a statement.

The 16 endowments that provided the Knight Foundation with diversity information included the University of California System, the University of Chicago, the University of Colorado, Columbia University, Duke University, the University of Illinois, Michigan State University, Princeton University, Rice University, Rutgers University, the University of Texas System, Vanderbilt University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford University. All together, these schools accounted for 54 percent of the total group’s endowment assets.


Out of the institutions that provided asset manager rosters, Stanford University touted the largest percentage of assets under management managed by diverse-owned firms at 38 percent. Duke University placed second at 32.1 percent, followed by Princeton (26.8 percent), the University of Pennsylvania (25 percent), Harvard (19 percent), and Columbia (18.6 percent).

Meanwhile, the thirty-four institutions that declined to participate included Yale University, Washington University, New York University, Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University, and Brown University, among others. In aggregate, these institutions accounted for $273 billion in assets under management.

Carnegie Mellon University, Emory University, Indiana University, Johns Hopkins, Kansas University, Michigan State University, the Ohio State University, the University of Virginia, the University of Nebraska Foundation, and Yale provided statements for their lack of participation in the study, largely citing internal investment office policies that prohibit them from disclosing this kind of “confidential” information. The University of Nebraska cited a “finite number of staff with finite resources (i.e. time) to invest in responding to such surveys” as its reason for not participating.

“Matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion are extremely important to Yale, as highlighted by David Swensen’s work to draw attention to such issues in the industry before he passed away,” Yale said in its statement. “While we declined to participate in this study for various reasons, we agree that women and people of color face significant barriers in the asset management industry.”

In its report, the Knight Foundation noted that in 2020, Yale University’s late chief investment officer David Swensen wrote a letter to the endowment’s asset managers that put in place annual diversity reporting requirements and requested a “more systematic approach to the problem of the lack of women and minorities in the asset management industry,” the report said.