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President Joe Biden’s recent announcement that the federal government will forgive $10,000 in federal higher-education debt for most borrowers and up to $20,000 for recipients of federal Pell Grants has again brought some attention to large endowments of colleges and universities. Some have proposed increasing taxes on these endowments to help government finance the forgiveness.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act’s levy of an excise tax of 1.4% on the endowments of higher-education institutions that have at least 500 tuition-paying students and net assets of at least $500,000 per student reflected unease about and discontent with the large endowments, and it caused an aggressive response from those entities holding and managing them.

Since we at The Giving Review have thought similar, anti-elite displeasure may soon be expressed about other sizable endowments, including in philanthropy, we have tried to follow the issue. Given the Biden announcement, we have updated a collection of articles, research, and commentary about it that originally appeared here on April 30, 2020. The update is below.


Frank Monti, “At the Witness Table in Congress: University Endowments,” Inside Philanthropy, September 20, 2016

Bruce Kimball, “A ‘Thoroughly Satisfactory And Permanent Remedy’: The Twentieth Century Invention Of The American University Endowment,” HistPhil, November 6, 2017

John  S. Rosenberg, “Endowments: The Specter of Taxation,” Harvard Magazine, November 6, 2017

Michael Stratford and Benjamin Wermund, “The new tax on Harvard,” Politico, December 22, 2017

Adam Harris, “A Tax on Endowments Became Law. But Congressman and Colleges Are Still Fighting It,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 8, 2018

Sandy Baum and Victoria Lee, The Role of College and University Endowments, Urban Institute, July 16, 2019

Sara Waldeck, “A new tax on big college and university endowments is sending higher education a message,” The Conversation, August 27, 2019

Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, “Private colleges push back on ‘endowment tax,’” Education Dive, October 28, 2019

Jonathan Trugman, “Top universities should be taxed under ‘tax the rich’ logic,” New York Post, December 7, 2019

Will Chamberlain, “Seize the Endowments,” Human Events, March 30, 2020

Zak Slayback, “It’s Time To Tax The University Endowments,” The American Conservative, April 18, 2020

Jennifer Bird-Pollan, “Taxing the Ivory Tower: Evaluating the Excise Tax on University Endowments,” Pepperdine Law Review, Volume 48, Issue 4, pages 1055 (2021)

Michael E. Hartmann, “Jennifer Bird-Pollan’s examination of tax on university endowments has implications for philanthropy,” The Giving Review, April 22, 2021

Henry Olsen, “So you want to tax the rich? Okay, let’s start with Harvard,” The Washington Post, April 27, 2021

Washington Post’s Henry Olsen: tax university and foundation endowments at much-higher rate,” The Giving Review, April 27, 2021

Michael E. Hartmann, “Enchanted with the elitest of exempt endowments,” The Giving Review, September 13, 2021

Michael E. Hartmann, “A conversation with University of Kentucky law professor Jennifer Bird-Pollan (Part 1 of 2),” The Giving Review, November 2, 2021, and “A conversation with University of Kentucky law professor Jennifer Bird-Pollan (Part 2 of 2),” The Giving Review, November 3, 2021 

Michael E. Hartmann, “Effort to reduce tax on income of elite higher-education endowments dropped,” The Giving Review, November 17, 2021

“Looking at the largest higher-education and grantmaker endowments in America,” The Giving Review, February 22, 2022

George Bulman, “The Effect of College and University Endowments on Financial Aid, Admissions, and Student Composition,”Working Paper 30404, National Bureau of Economic Research, August 2022

Tyler Cowen, “What are higher university endowments good for?,” Marginal Revolution, August 29, 2022

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