When Bill Pollard was a student at Washington University in St. Louis, it was no longer just a locally-known “streetcar university” attracting students from the St. Louis area, but was still on its way to becoming the internationally renowned institution it is today.
During his time as a student, in his career as a lawyer afterwards, and finally during his tenure on the Wash. U. board of trustees, Pollard has witnessed the university’s impressive institutional and financial growth.
“When you talk about the evolution of Washington University,” Pollard said, “You’re going back from the days that it was a streetcar university to its international stature today, in the space of two generations. The people who have been a part of that university have worked very hard and very successfully to get to that point.”
He was named to the board in December 2018, close to when Chancellor Andrew D. Martin, began his tenure. As a member of the board, part of Pollard’s job is to monitor the university’s investment portfolio and endowment.
And as a Wash U press release announced Monday, their Managed Endowment Pool has generated a record 65% return for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Under the leadership of Scott L. Wilson, the university’s chief investment officer, the MEP has exceeded expectations for the past four years, and now has a value of $15.3 billion as of the close of the fiscal year on June 30, 2021.
Martin, for his part, is grateful to the university’s investment managers for making this happen.
“Since becoming chancellor almost two years ago, I have been focused on taking the necessary steps to fulfill our promise to make Washington University a place where all students can have access to a world-class educational experience,” Martin said.
“This remarkable return will allow us to take a huge step forward, and I look forward to sharing our plans with our university community in the coming weeks. Again, I am extremely grateful to Scott Wilson and our WUIMC team for making this moment possible.”
Pollard, a partner at Duane Morris LLP in New York, said a great deal of this growth has to do with Martin’s vision for the school.
Pollard said Martin, “has brought in new people, new positions. And he is engaged, not just internally, but a part of his vision for the university involves its participation in the greater St. Louis community, as well. So that should be an exciting and interesting time.”
So, with its rapidly increasing endowment, Washington University is moving back in some ways towards its “streetcar university” days - at least in the sense of being a school embedded in and lifting up its surrounding communities.
“One of the things Chancellor Martin has done...in his inaugural address, he talks about providing educational opportunities for people who graduate from high schools in the metropolitan area,” Pollard said.
“He wants the university to support the development of opportunities for people who live in and around St. Louis.”
Those opportunities can look like Wash U’s University College, which was started decades ago as a night school and is now a part-time degree-granting option for working adults. It can also look like the contributions made by the medical school, towards which a great deal of this endowment growth will according to Pollard be going.
The relationship between the university and the community, Pollard said, is “multi-focal.”
The school draws a share of its students from the St. Louis metropolitan area (about 30% of students, according to the university’s website, come from the Midwest as a region, though all but 10% are from out of state). And the school is a major area employer, with over 4,000 employees in the faculty alone.
The medical school provides doctors to the string of hospitals along Kingshighway, and the school is a major real estate holder in University City and the Central West End. “So, how the university is going to evolve — you can look at all of these things, and you can talk about the impact on St. Louis.”
In the short term, Pollard said, the newly robust endowment is good news for the student population at Wash U: it means security in the school’s ability to provide scholarship funding and pay its instructors, and is in general “a cushion to its budgets.”
And in the long term, “The growth of the endowment...is just a means to the end,” Pollard said, that end being “The increase in educational opportunities, the education of students, and the principle reason for the existence of the academy, the advancement of knowledge.”