Ripon’s endowment surpasses $100 million, securing our future

Ripon College’s endowment fund crossed above the $100 million mark in March for the first time, a significant milestone in the Wisconsin school’s 170-year history. The growth of the College’s endowment is an indicator of Ripon’s financial foundation and the commitment of its alumni and friends to its future.

“Colleges traditionally draw their revenues from three principal sources: tuition, annual gifts and interest from the endowment,” says Zach Messitte, Ripon College’s 13th president. “The larger the endowment, the less we have to rely on students’ tuition dollars. Over the decades, alumni and friends have been incredibly generous, believing in our mission. They have donated their time, treasure and talent to make sure our future will continue to be bright.”

Just a dozen years ago, following the 2008 Great Recession, the College’s endowment had declined to $35 million. But the College’s Board of Trustees, alumni and friends continued to build and manage the fund with the help of Prime Buchholz, an investment consulting firm based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Investment Committee of Ripon’s Board of Trustees, largely composed of Ripon alumni who have professional experience in the financial world, meets regularly with Prime Buchholz to make sure the endowment is appropriately diversified and is hitting benchmarked returns. The endowment blossomed to $60 million in 2012 and is now more than $100 million.

“My family has been committed to Ripon College for more than a century,” says Tom Abendroth ’81, chair of the Ripon College Board of Trustees. Abendroth, whose father Bob Abendroth ’51 also served as chair of Ripon’s Board of Trustees, can count numerous Ripon College graduates among his family members across multiple generations. “I am proud that the College has emphasized building the endowment over the decades because it helps secure our financial future. We need to continue to do everything possible to keep Ripon affordable to the best and brightest students, regardless of their financial situation.”

There is a common misconception that an endowment is a bank account that a college can use whenever it wants. In reality, a college endowment serves more like an intergenerational gift from one generation to the next that keeps on giving year after year. The Board of Trustees allows the College to take a percentage of the endowment annually, based on a 12-quarter rolling average of the value of the portfolio, to help defray costs that range from student scholarships to operations.

“This is a remarkable achievement for Ripon College,” says Dena Willmore ’67, who served on the Ripon College Board of Trustees for 22 years and was chair from 2003-2009. A longtime advocate for building the College’s endowment, she retired as a partner and senior vice president of Wellington Management Co. in Boston. “Like so many other Ripon College alumni, the school made an impact on my life. All of us who had the benefit of a Ripon education need to remember to pay it forward. We now need to set our sights on raising the endowment to $150 million and then $200 million to make sure that future generations of Ripon students can have the same kinds of opportunities we had.”

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