University endowment to be invested in Sewanee Village

Claire Smith   

The Board of Regents has committed to investing $10 million dollars of the University endowment in the Sewanee Village development plan, Vice President of Economic Development and Communications David Shipps (C’88) announced on October 25. Shipps emphasized that this investment would both result in financial returns for the endowment and bring qualitative improvements to the community of Sewanee.

Shipps said that the University is not spending money from its operating budget. Rather, the University’s endowment, which is a collection of gifts donated for specific purposes, will be invested in the village’s development to generate a financial return for the endowment. 

While the endowment, appraised at a market value of $420 million in 2020, is invested in a variety of investment vehicles, including stocks, bonds, and hedge funds, this investment will be for businesses and development projects in the town of Sewanee.  “The regents have said, in essence, by designating this portion of the endowment to the village, we believe that investing in this manner is going to allow the University to more readily serve and fulfill our mission,” Shipps said.

While the regents have not identified specific projects for investment, Shipps said that they have identified two key areas of improvement: additional residential options and wider commercial offerings that are “befitting a college campus community.” 

Residential options may include apartments, townhomes, and mixed-use residential/commercial spaces that offer more affordable housing for faculty and staff. “It’s a bad outcome when the University has a young faculty member or a new staff member who wants to live in Sewanee but can’t,” Shipps said.

Some faculty and staff commute from nearby towns like Monteagle or Winchester, while others commute from Chattanooga, Murfreesboro, or Nashville. Operations and Compensation Specialist Jessica Welch said, “We in HR will hear, in recruitment discussions, housing will come up and they can’t make a promise as to what kind of housing they may get,”

“If somebody is moving here, to be able to visually see more housing, will be reassuring. Also, it will be reassuring to somebody that, if they decide to live here, there are options to choose from,” Welch said.

The second priority targets greater commercial offerings that address the needs of students as well as faculty, staff, and community members. “I went on a field trip in July and visited about eight college towns that were rurally situated like us, and each one had a common set of ingredients to them, that made them delightful places to live,” Shipps said. While the regents did not provide examples of potential merchants, Shipps suggested coffee shops, restaurants, and wider shopping opportunities as potential investments.

Dean of Admissions Alan Ramirez said that adding unique and distinctive businesses to the Sewanee village can help attract students when they visit campus. After their campus tour, Ramirez said, students and their families also consider how they will live in the surrounding community: “As they continue to explore town, not only are the students looking at Sewanee as their college experience, but they’re also looking “how will this be my home for the next four years? Where am I going to eat, what are the dining options, what are the shops?”” 

Ramirez said that the Office of Admissions had not yet been consulted on specific attractions for prospective students, he said the decisions for investment will be made “after multiple surveys and data collecting of what will be the most impactful.”

Shipps cited the anticipated shift in competition in the college market in 2026 as a key motivation for investing in additional commercial offerings in Sewanee. Sewanee will be recruiting in a smaller and more diverse pool of students, and Shipps said, “the necessity of ensuring that Sewanee is as competitive as possible is a very strategic and important thing.” 

While Shipps said colleges tend to avoid describing themselves as competitive, he said, “We are in the business of attracting young people to come to college here. That is the mission of the University, that’s what we’re here to do.” 

Ramirez said that the news of the investment signals progress for the University: “It’s going to be a positive lift to the University. It’s going to impact not just what we do here with recruiting students to Sewanee, but also our faculty, staff, and administrators when they’re looking at their next institution to live and work in.”

While they believe additional development will help with recruitment, Ramirez and Welch said that Sewanee’s identity as a rural school is part of what makes it competitive. “There are many people who intentionally choose to move here because it’s quieter and slower,” Welch said. “Sewanee in itself, locally, is it’s own brand.”

“We are who we are. Sewanee is a small, rural town, but that doesn’t mean we have to limit what we have available,” Ramirez said.

While the investment process is still in the early stages, Shipps said that his office has been approved to create a legal structure for managing and consulting for investment in the village. Next, initiatives must be proposed, evaluated, and approved by the Regents’ Investment Management Committee. Shipps said that community members “should expect that proposals will materialize” over the course of the 2022 calendar year.