Lehigh received a letter from the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Ways and Means questioning the school’s use of its $1.2 billion endowment.
The two congressional committees sent the letter via email on Feb. 8 to Lehigh and 55 other universities whose endowments are over $1 billion. The letter contains 13 questions about the school’s use of its endowment. Universities are required to provide some information to the Internal Revenue Service about their endowments, and the questions in the letter ask the universities to elaborate on this information. The rise in the cost of tuition has outpaced the rate of inflation in recent years, and the questions deal with how universities use their endowment to address the rising cost of higher education.
“The committees are conducting additional oversight of how colleges and universities are using endowment assets to fulfill their charitable and educational purposes,” according to the letter signed by Representative Kevin Brady, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; and Representative Peter Roskam, chairman of the House Ways and Means on Oversight Subcommittee.
Patricia Johnson, vice president for Finance and Administration at Lehigh, said the school will respond to the “fairly involved, very detailed” questions by the April 1 deadline. Lehigh spends about 36 percent of its endowment on financial aid, according to Johnson. She said this portion is considerably larger than the percentage of endowment that other schools use for financial aid.
“What they want to know is what your endowment is invested in, where you use the money, where does it go, how much supports financial aid,” Johnson said. “Because we think their intent, we’re guessing . . . is to look at the cost of higher education and why it costs so much.”