Divestment is an issue that has attracted massive amounts of student activism in recent years.
Despite the nationwide collegiate hubbub about divestment from fossil fuels and other unsustainable energy corporations, interest from Colorado College students has waned.
“There has been no student participation this year,” said Stacy Lutz Davidson, controller and assistant treasurer at the college.
The reason for this waning interest is unclear, but is potentially based in frustration over the scarcity of sustainable investment opportunities.
Over the last several years, student groups expressed interest in where CC’s endowment money was being invested.
“Several students were involved in proxy voting, where they could express their views about where some of the endowment is invested, but that has not continued,” Lutz Davidson continued.
Proxy voting is a system where CC students were allowed to contribute to conversations with JW Bristol and Co., the manager that invests 29 percent of the school’s almost $600 million endowment.
“Bristol deals exclusively with higher education investment, and they are very understanding about students wanting to be involved,” Lutz Davidson said.
Although many students push for the college to divest from fossil fuels, there is disconnect where those who control the investments don’t even know where the money is invested.
“Students want to know company business secrets, but the companies say, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t reveal our investments and do our job.’ If they did, the whole system wouldn’t work,” said Robert Moore, vice president for finance and administration.
CC has also participated in conversations with other colleges that have run into similar issues involving investment. Nationwide, college students actively protest their school’s investments in fossil fuels. However, the issue seems to be that companies that can provide good returns and also invest sustainably. Perhaps this dilemma has something to do with why students at CC have discontinued interest in the issue.
Because many investments that are lucrative are not also sustainable, it puts the board and the financial office in a sort of catch-22.
“Many investors in the college will only invest if they know that we will produce good returns, which means we have to choose companies wisely,” said Lutz Davidson. “One of the companies we invest in, called Portfolio 21, is an example of a sustainable company. We don’t have much money invested with them, but companies like theirs could be the future of sustainable investment. We’re just waiting for more to come along.”
With many of the companies that CC invests with, the school has no voting power, and the companies are not very transparent with their investments. From a financial perspective, the goal is to continue to grow the endowment in order to provide more students with financial aid and contribute to other essential elements of the school.
In this sense, the endowment is going in the right direction – growing.
The money produced through the endowment is essential to the functioning of the school. The endowment contributes seven percent of the annual budget for the school, a third of all financial aid, and contributes to faculty salaries. The Colorado College board of trustees, who make decisions on investment management, determines investment of money donated through private foundations and donors.
Although the endowment ebbs and flows with the natural business cycle, on net, the sum has grown over the years. The result of this growth is an endowment of almost 600 million dollars.
In 2013, 38 percent of this money has gone to financial aid, 20 percent has gone to departments, 19 percent to professorships, 4 percent to the library, and 19 percent to other programs.
The endowment is crucial to the school, and continues to be a major talking point both inside and outside of the community.
“We are incredibly fortunate,” said Moore. “Our endowment has grown over the years, and will continue to grow.”