The College Sustainability Report Card 2009 evaluates the colleges and universities with the 300 largest endowments in the United States and Canada. The endowment ranking was determined in part by the 2007 NACUBO Endowment Study, published in January 2008 by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, which provides the most recent data of its kind. Endowment values listed on the 300 profile pages reflect financial figures from this study, unless otherwise noted on the profile page for a specific school.
This year, the Report Card went beyond the NACUBO Endowment Study and searched public records to develop a more comprehensive list of schools that meet our criteria of having approximately $160 million or more in endowment assets. As a result of this search, 8 schools in the United States and 11 schools in Canada were added to the Report Card because they each met the endowment size threshold.
In the Report Card 2009, there has been a change in the reporting on university systems (such as the University of California). In previous years, Report Card research focused on the main campus but also, in certain cases, included facts and information on other campuses within a university system. In response to feedback from a number of university systems, it was determined to be more appropriate to treat each campus as a separate university. This has resulted in Report Card 2009 profiles looking exclusively at the main campus within a university system and identifying the Report Card profile as being specifically for that campus, rather than the entire system.
As part of our commitment to treat each campus within a university system as a separate institution, we applied the same selection process to include campuses that met the aforementioned endowment assets threshold. When breakdowns of endowment pools within a university system were not publicly available, appropriate administrators at each university system were contacted and asked to provide this information. As a result of this process, seven schools within university systems were added. In addition, in two cases, the main campus of a university system was not the largest by student enrollment and therefore, the University of Alaska–Anchorage and University of Nevada–Las Vegas were added. Based solely on the endowment size threshold, 46 out of 50 US states are represented. In order to track activity at at least one institution in every state, this year the main campuses of the university systems in the four missing states were added: Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
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. This filter resulted in the omission of approximately 30 specialized schools.
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. Fifteen schools that earned cumulative grade averages of “A-” qualified as Overall College Sustainability Leaders. The Campus Sustainability Leader designation recognizes the 43 schools that received an average grade of “A-” or better on the six campus operations categories (Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling, Green Building, Student Involvement, and Transportation). The Endowment Sustainability Leader designation recognizes the 14 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 300 schools in the Report Card 2009, SEI developed the Champions of Sustainability in Communities Awards and continues the Sustainability Innovator Awards first introduced last year. Campuses with community partnerships that demonstrate the impact of collaboration in achieving sustainability goals are highlighted by the Champion Awards, while the Innovator Awards recognize an additional small group of highly innovative schools, not otherwise profiled in the Report Card 2009, for their leadership in sustainability. 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 college and university 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 five Champion Award recipients and the three Innovator Award recipients were selected based on nominations received by the deadline.
Data Collection & Verification: Campus Operations
Data collection for the Report Card took place from June through August 2008. For the six sections related to campus management (Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling, Green Building, Student Involvement, 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. The Sustainable Endowments Institute has been a member of AASHE since 2006.
After preliminary information was obtained for the campus management section, the presidents at all 300 schools were contacted via email. Each president was sent a survey that included SEI’s initial findings about his or her respective school and a request to add to, update, or correct the data . The survey included findings for the following categories: Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Green Building, Student Involvement, and Transportation. The same survey was also sent to the sustainability coordinator, or a similarly designated sustainability professional, at the schools where such a position exists.
If these school officials did not respond promptly, SEI made additional attempts to contact each school. Two separate follow-up emails were sent and at least two phone calls were placed to each school. In total, 271 of the 300 schools (90.33 percent) responded to the campus survey.
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 300 dining services surveys sent, 247 (82.33 percent) were completed.
If more recent information was not provided in response to either survey, but the school had responded to the relevant survey for Report Card 2008, this previously collected information was used.
Many schools submitted extensive and detailed responses. Due to space limitations, SEI regretfully had to edit this information 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 at each school 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 obtain endowment policies and practices. Responses were received from 211 of the 300 schools (70.33 percent) after following up by both phone and email. Whenever possible, data and information collected from publicly available sources were incorporated into the profile and results for each school. If more recent information was not provided, but a school had responded to the Report Card 2008 endowment survey, this previously collected information was used.
Data Collection: Institutional Demographic Information
Institutional demographic information, such as student enrollment and location, presented on each school's profile page and in search results, comes from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The percentage of students receiving Pell grants at each school comes from the Economic Diversity of Colleges data set maintained by the The Institute for College Access & Success. In cases where these sources did not have adequate data, such as for 17 Canadian universities, school websites and/or school administrators provided demographic information.
For both the research and the grading processes, SEI was careful to avoid 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 43 indicators used for grading are described in the Indicators section. 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 nine 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 six campus management categories and the three endowment-related categories. The nine 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 2008 surveys, if applicable.
While there is a high degree of geographic and size 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, 2008 and 2009 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.