The disparities in college endowments are enormous. As of mid 2004, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton had average endowments of $14.9 billion, while three private institutions of similar size, George Washington University, Georgetown, and American University, averaged $543 million. That is a ratio of 27:1--about the same difference in income between a successful investment banker and a Wal-Mart clerk.
The numbers are even more striking in small liberal arts colleges. Grinnell, the richest of those that report data publicly, had an endowment of $1.2 million per student. Annual earnings of just 4 percent would produce more than $46,000 per student in yearly interest. Why does Grinnell charge tuition?
A case could be made that the biggest source of inequality in America is our system of collegiate gift-giving. If people made their donations to generic funds that provided student vouchers, rather than giving their gifts to specific colleges and universities, that would probably be much less of a rich-get-richer scheme.