BOSTON (AP) -- Hundreds of U.S. colleges lost money on their investments last year, continuing a downward slide that threatens to put a pinch on budgets, according to a new study.
Among 800 schools included in the study, the average endowment shrank by almost 2 percent, the worst performance since the economic recession in 2009. The annual study is done by the National Association of College and University Business Officers and the Commonfund Institute, a Connecticut investment firm.
Many colleges invested heavily in stocks outside the U.S., which performed poorly, pulling down their overall returns. Investments in energy and natural resources also led to losses.
It was the second year in a row that colleges saw their returns decrease, following two previous years of strong gains and a series of swings before that.
Some of the nation's wealthiest universities were hit hardest last year. Harvard University's $34 billion endowment remained the largest but fell by 5 percent, the study found. The value of Columbia University's endowment fell by 6.2 percent, to $9 billion. The University of Chicago's fell 7 percent, to $7 billion.
Yale University stayed at No. 2 behind Harvard, with a $25 billion endowment, followed by the University of Texas system, with $24 billion. Both held about even since the year before.
John Walda, president and CEO of the association behind the study, said universities are increasingly relying on endowment money to make up for decreases in state funding. He added that, amid predictions of declining enrollment in many regions, some schools will face budget cuts if returns don't improve.
Still, the average endowment was almost $640 million in 2016. Some members of Congress have criticized colleges in recent years for amassing large sums of money while increasing tuition, prompting some lawmakers to propose mandatory yearly minimums that schools would have to spend on scholarships.