The College announced Thursday that its endowment earned a 24.4 percent return during the last fiscal year. The figure represents the highest one-year return since 1986, and is the fourth-highest since 1970.
As of June 30, the end of the last fiscal year, Bowdoin's endowment was valued at $827.7 million, up from $673.4 the year before.
According to President Barry Mills, the high return is a "reflection of a strong market, and also a reflection of excellent management of our endowment."
"Paula is a world-class investor, and she works with a committee of world-class investors," Mills added, referring to Paula Volent, senior vice president for investments, and the College's Investment Committee.
Volent was traveling and could not be reached for comment.
According to an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the average return for endowments and foundations over the last fiscal year was 17.5 percent, while the Standard and Poor's index, a standard financial benchmark, grew 18.36 percent.
Many colleges and universities reported high returns during the last year. Yale University and Amherst College, the nation's best two performers, saw increases of 28 and 27.8 percent, respectively.
Information on endowment growth of other Maine colleges was unavailable; Colby College will release its data in early October, while Bates College failed to follow-up on a request for information.
Although a good manager can improve the performance of a school's endowment, returns are also closely tied to fluctuations in the economy. While Bowdoin's endowment has experienced double-digit growth over the last four years, in 2001 and 2002 the endowment actually shrank, by 0.6 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively.
Because of this uncertainty, Mills said the College would not change the amount of money that it withdraws from the endowment, despite the large return.
"We have set a five percent endowment draw and that is a healthy but responsible endowment draw every year," Mills said. "The endowment is about in good times and in bad times having a stable source of income with which to pay for your highest priorities."
Those priorities, Mills continued, are the academic program and financial aid. According to a Bowdoin press release, the College's endowment pays for around 57 percent of its financial aid budget.
Bowdoin's investment policies have not been immune to controversy. In the fall of 2006, Mills recommended that the College avoid investments in corporations with business dealings in Sudan after some students raised concerns about the genocide that was occurring in the Darfur region of the country.
In January, the Sustainable Endowments Institute published report cards rating colleges and universities on their endowment policies and campus environmental practices. Bowdoin got an overall grade of B-, but scored a C in the category of "investment priorities" and failing grades in "endowment transparency" and "shareholder engagement."
Echoing statements that he made during the controversy over Darfur, Mills said that the College's endowment was not a place for political activism.
"The investment of our endowment is designed to maximize returns," he said. "To find yourself engaged in a political and social debate about priorities is not the purpose."
As for the issue of transparency, Mills said the Bowdoin signs confidentiality agreements with its managers.
"We have created governance at the College which I believe provides sufficient transparency," he added. "Endowments are not political conventions."
Mills added that Bowdoin was not taking unreasonable risks to achieve high returns.
"The risk that we're taking is certainly appropriate for the size of the endowment that we have," Mills said. "If you have real experts running your money and systems with real accountability, you're doing the best you can do to maximize your returns."