Pitt has a $5.5 billion endowment. Should the university spend more to lower college costs?

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The University of Pittsburgh hasn’t been tapping into its multibillion-dollar endowment at the same rate as other affluent universities, choosing not to spend millions annually that some experts say could support the university and its students as college costs rise.

Endowments are composed of gifts from individual donors. State law and donor stipulations place restrictions on how Pitt can spend its roughly $5.5 billion endowment, which is meant to support scholarships, faculty positions and academic programs in perpetuity. But Pitt has some leeway over the allocation of its endowment funds — and its choices can reflect certain priorities.

Pitt spent about $172 million — or 3% — of its endowment in the 2022 fiscal year, financial records show. On average, universities with endowments of more than $5 billion spent 3.8% that year. That’s according to survey results from the National Association of College and University Business Officers, which has analyzed endowment data for decades.