The College Sustainability Report Card 2008 evaluates the colleges and universities with the 200 largest endowments in the United States and Canada. The endowment ranking was determined by the 2006 NACUBO Endowment Study, published in January 2007 by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, which provides the most recent data of its kind. Endowment values listed on the 200 profile pages reflect financial figures from this study, unless more recent data from school administrators or websites were provided (as noted at the bottom of the profile page for each school).
The selection process was further refined by omitting certain institutions based on several guidelines: The Report Card does not assess institutions limited to a single, specialized field of graduate or professional study; institutions that do not have traditional campus facilities; or institutions that share endowments with primary or secondary schools. Furthermore, schools that are part of a state-wide university system with multiple campuses (such as the University of California) have been merged into a single system profile. The process involved taking an initial look at system-wide activities and then focusing on the flagship campus. When appropriate, activities of other schools within the system were included. While assessing endowment policies of university systems, the system’s pooled endowment was reviewed. When necessary, the endowment of the flagship campus and/or an affiliated foundation was considered, but not separately-reported endowments of non-flagship campuses. As a result of applying these filters, 14 of the 214 wealthiest institutions of higher education listed in the 2006 NACUBO Endowment Study have not been included in this report.
In order to recognize schools that have made notable achievements in various areas of sustainability, the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) has created a number of leadership categories. Six schools that earned cumulative grade averages of "A-" qualified as overall College Sustainability Leaders. The Campus Sustainability Leader designation recognizes the 25 schools that received an average grade of "A-" or better on the five campus operations categories (Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling, Green Building, and Transportation). The Endowment Sustainability Leader designation recognizes the three schools that received an average grade of "A-" or better on the three endowment management categories (Endowment Transparency, Investment Priorities, and Shareholder Engagement). In addition, SEI has recognized all schools that received an "A" grade in a specific category with the appropriate leadership designation (e.g. Green Building Leader, Transportation Leader, etc.).
Along with profiling 200 schools in the Report Card 2008, SEI developed the Sustainability Innovator Award to recognize an additional small group of highly innovative schools for their leadership in sustainability. Schools already included in the Report Card 2008 were not eligible to participate. Nominations were solicited by posting the announcement on the front page of SEI’s website (www.endowmentinstitute.org), as well as by sending requests for nominations to numerous listservs, websites, and sustainability coordinators. In judging the nominations, SEI used the following criteria: efficiency/reduction of resource use, educational impact, creativity, uniqueness of solution or adaptability of approach to other schools. The four award recipients were selected based on nominations received by the deadline.
Data Collection & Verification: Campus Operations
Data collection for the report took place from June through September 2007. For the five sections related to campus management (Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling, Green Building, and Transportation), information was gathered first from publicly available documentation. Sources included the institution’s website and media coverage, as well as information from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). Data from both the public and members-only sections of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) website were also used to compile the school profiles. SEI has been a member of AASHE since 2006.
After preliminary information was obtained for the campus management section, the presidents at all 200 schools were contacted via email. Each president was sent a survey that included SEI’s initial findings about his or her respective school in the Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Green Building, and Transportation categories, along with a request to add to, update, or correct the data. The survey was also sent to the sustainability coordinator, or a similarly designated sustainability professional, at the schools at which such a position exists.
If individuals did not respond promptly, SEI made several additional attempts to contact each school–specifically, sending at least two separate follow-up emails and placing at least two phone calls to each school. In total, 149 of the 200 schools (74.5 percent) responded to the campus survey. If more recent information was not provided, but a school had responded to the Report Card 2007 campus survey, this previously collected information was used and is noted at the bottom of the profile. Since dining services are often contracted to an independent vendor, a separate dining services survey was sent to the director of dining services, or equivalent professional, at each institution. Of the 200 dining services surveys sent, 130 (65 percent) were completed.
Many schools submitted extensive and detailed responses. Due to space limitations, SEI regretfully had to edit them to fit within the profile format. The points assigned for their grades, however, were based on all information submitted.
Data Collection & Verification: Endowment Management
For the three endowment-related sections (Endowment Transparency, Investment Priorities, and Shareholder Engagement), a multiple-choice survey was sent via email to an official whose duties pertain to endowment management. Typically, this individual was a chief investment officer, chief financial officer, vice president for investments, vice president for finance, director of investments, or another person with similar responsibilities.
Because comparatively little information is publicly available on endowments, SEI was unable to conduct the same type of initial background research that was employed for the campus survey. Consequently, a multiple-choice survey format was chosen to accurately capture endowment policies and practices. Responses were received from 90 of the 200 schools (45 percent) after following up by both phone and email. Whenever possible, data and information collected from publicly available sources were incorporated into each school’s profile and results. If more recent information was not provided, but a school responded to the Report Card 2007 endowment survey, this previously collected information was used and is noted at the bottom of the profile.
For both the research and the grading processes, SEI was careful to avoid any potential bias or conflicts of interest by assigning members of the research team to schools with which they have no current or previous affiliation. Furthermore, each school’s complete information was reviewed by at least two evaluators who worked independently and did not confer about their evaluations. In a small number of cases, when the resulting grades from both sources were not identical, a third evaluation was conducted independently of the first two assessments, to resolve the disparity.
All 39 indicators used for grading are described in the Indicators section of this report. Each school earned numerical points in proportion to its policies and practices for each indicator. A predetermined scale, based on points earned for the indicators, was then used to determine letter grades for each of the eight categories. To simplify grading, only full letter grades (i.e., no plus or minus) of A, B, C, D, and F were given in the five campus management categories and the three endowment-related categories. The eight equally weighted category grades were totaled to calculate a grade point average (GPA) on a 4.0 scale (where A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, and F = 0).
The GPA was then translated into an overall sustainability grade, ranging from "A" to "F," using a standard grading scale. No school received an "F" in the Investment Priorities category because all schools were awarded a minimum grade of "C" for aiming to optimize investment return. When schools did not respond to the questionnaires or inquiries, or declined to participate, grades were derived from research of publicly available sources, as well as responses to the Report Card 2007 surveys, if applicable.
While there is a high degree of diversity among the schools in the Report Card, many of the best practices can be applied to all colleges and universities, be they large or small, public or private. In the research and grading, factors that might be primarily attributed to size or geographic location were taken into account and those categories were graded accordingly. For example, in the Food & Recycling category for the University of Alaska, SEI included in its evaluation the fact that locally grown food would not be easily available because of the short growing season in Alaska.
Among the potential formats for presenting research findings, the system of assigning letter grades was thought to be appropriate for educational institutions. A comparison of grades in the 2007 and 2008 editions of the College Sustainability Report Card provides a readily accessible way to track progress among schools. In future years, multi-year comparisons will help provide a longer-term picture of sustainability trends in higher education.