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5 takeaways from Princeton’s tax returns

The sun sets over a row of beige buildings on Nassau Street. There is a white Tesla car in the foreground and people are walking along the sidewalk.
The sun sets over Nassau Street and Palmer Square.
Louisa Gheorghita / The Daily Princetonian

Nonprofit organizations, including Princeton, must fill out the Form 990 – a tax form detailing finances for everything from total investment income to the highest-paid employees. The Daily Princetonian analyzed the University’s public tax records in search of intriguing data. Records include contributions to government organizations, assistance with financing homes for employees, and payroll of big-name professors. Through further comparisons of Princeton's finances to the 990s of peer institutions Harvard and Yale, we explored how Princeton distributes its substantial budget — from the roughly $400,000 spent on lobbying to the over $250 million earmarked for financial aid.

The highest paid professors are paid less than at Harvard and Yale


The highest paid individual listed as a “professor” on Princeton’s Form 990 is David Lee GS ’99, Professor of Economics and Public Affairs and the former Provost. His total compensation was $601,335, much lower than the highest paid professors at Harvard and Yale — both universities with endowments larger than Princeton’s, but also with larger student bodies. Harvard’s highest paid individual listed as a member of the “faculty” was David Malan, professor of Harvard’s popular computer science course CS50, whose total compensation was $1,597,747, while Yale’s best compensated faculty member was Murat Gunel, chair of the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Neurosurgery, with a total compensation of $1,623,494. While there are professors who have higher total compensation, they have higher administrative titles, such as Dean or Provost.

Millions given in mortgage assistance to employees

The University offers loans to its employees, typically in the form of mortgages. In the fiscal year ending in June 2022, Princeton reported loaning mortgages to twelve “key employees” or “officers,” with an average loan of just over half a million dollars.

In comparison, Harvard reported loaning money to five employees for the construction or purchase of a home. Each individual borrowed on average $750,000, higher than the average mortgage Princeton loaned. Yale issued loans to two individuals for the purpose of housing, though these individuals borrowed only $150,000 on average. The average cost of a home in Princeton is $858,468, as compared to $980,849 in Cambridge and $278,476 in New Haven, according to Zillow

According to University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss, these loans are part of a “program designed to attract and retain excellent faculty and senior staff,” and the program is typical for “educational institutions in high cost of living areas.” 


The University offers multiple homeownership programs for faculty and staff. Its Standard Mortgage Program offers mortgages at 20 percent below the “prevailing local commercial rate for residential mortgage loans.” The Standard Mortgage Program is available for faculty and research scientists with three-year appointments or longer, as well as other higher-level employees. In order for a property to be eligible for the program, it must be located within nine miles of the main campus, though properties in Trenton are also eligible. Beyond the Standard Mortgage Program, Princeton’s Tenancy-in-Common program offers additional homeownership assistance, but only for tenured faculty and senior staff. It funds up to one third of the purchase of a home in exchange for the University owning a third of the property and collecting a third of the net sales proceeds or fair market value when the house is sold.

Donations to non-profits, three Universities, and the Triangle Club

Princeton gives a number of grants to nonprofits and government organizations. In line with Princeton’s commitment to public service, these grants are largely to nonprofits and the local government. Princeton’s largest contribution was by far their contribution to the municipality of Princeton. Princeton also donated to Princeton Public Schools, the Princeton Fire Department, the Princeton First Aid Rescue Squad, and West Windsor Township. 

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From 2014 through 2022, the University held a contribution agreement with the Town of Princeton, through which they contributed 21.8 million dollars to the town — according to a statement by Eisgruber, the purpose of the agreement was to affirm the “University’s ongoing support for the community.” The 3.8 million dollars they reported in their 2021-2022 Form 990 was a voluntary contribution that the University made to the town beyond the agreement. The University made a similar contribution in 2022. The University’s voluntary contributions to Princeton town government made up 0.16% of its total expenses of $2,369,524,000 in fiscal year 2022. This calculation includes contributions listed on the Form 990 to the town government, Princeton Public Schools, and the Princeton Fire Department. Given that the Princeton municipal budget, which does not include public schools, totaled $67,213,266 in 2021, these voluntary contributions from the University made up 5.6 percent of the town’s budget.

Historically, there have been disputes over whether some of Princeton’s properties should be considered tax-exempt as they provide revenue to the University. Starting in 2023, some of the properties with revenue-generating activities, such as McCosh Infirmary and Frist Campus Center, have been removed from the tax rolls. To make up for the lost revenue to the town, the University will make PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) payments to Princeton Public Schools. 

Princeton also donates to a number of education non-profits, such as Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America (LEDA) and some scholarship-granting programs. In addition to a $304,000 contribution, Princeton also gave LEDA $662,479 for “conference services.” LEDA hosts a tuition-free summer program at Princeton. Other sponsors of LEDA include McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, Former University President Shirley Tilghman, and the New York University School of Law. 

Princeton also contributed to three other universities: The University of Pennsylvania, Barnard College, and the American University of Beirut. All three of these donations were described as “contributions.” 

The only student organization outside of the University that Princeton contributed to was Triangle Club, to which it gave $178,340. A trustee of Triangle Club declined to comment on the contribution. 

According to the University’s Office of Finance and Treasury, “As a general rule, the University does not contribute financially to other registered not-for-profit charitable organizations.” Hotchkiss, however, stated that “the University's Department of Community and Regional Affairs reviews requests from local non-profits and looks to provide program support for organizations in the Princeton area who provide important services and resources to the community.” He elaborated that “all contributions are evaluated to assure that they support the Princeton community at large.” The University also has “agreements with various government agencies regarding annual contributions,” such as the Municipality of Princeton. Harvard and Yale also made a number of contributions to charities and educational institutions, such as charter schools in New Haven and the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

More spent on financial aid for graduate students

On the most recent Form 990 from 2022, the University reported giving $161,333,330 in tuition aid and $35,798,131 in non-tuition aid to undergraduates, for a total of $197,131,461. Since then, this number has increased significantly; according to a 2023-24 press release, the undergraduate financial aid budget is now a massive $268 million dollars. Despite having almost twice as many undergraduate students as graduate students, Princeton gives about twice as much money in non-tuition grants to graduate students as undergraduates. Princeton also allocates about the same amount towards tuition scholarships for each population – $161,333,330 and $147,004,642, respectively. Princeton guarantees full funding to every graduate student, meaning the University will cover both their tuition and living expenses, while for undergraduates, Princeton will meet full financial need.

Nearly half a million spent on lobbying

Princeton also reports spending about $400,000 on direct lobbying expenses to legislative bodies. Princeton's lobbying efforts are handled by the University's Office of Government Affairs. The Office of Government Affairs is headed by Gadi Dechter, the Vice President of Communications and Governmental Affairs. His role is to advocate for “the priorities of Princeton and higher education more broadly,” as well as to provide “strategic communications and federal relations advice to the President and other senior University leaders.”

The office monitors a number of issues, listed on their website as appropriations, fusion, higher education policy, immigration, research and science policy, and tax. Since PPPL is a Department of Energy National Laboratory, the Office of Government Affairs monitors fusion policy. Immigration policy also impacts Princeton’s ability to recruit students and faculty from around the world, as such, Eisgruber has historically advocated for immigration policies, such as the continuation of the DACA program, that would enable more people, particularly students, to be able to immigrate to and stay in the United States.

According to Hotchkiss, the University’s lobbying efforts broadly attempt to “influence legislation through communication with members of a legislative body or a governmental official who is participating in formulating this legislation.” Specifically, the University lobbies for “support for federal agencies…that fund basic research,” “advocat[es] for policies that promote the University’s goals of attracting students and scholars from around the world,” and “press[es] for federal commitment to providing greater educational opportunities for all students, such as legislation to double the maximum amount of the Pell Grant for low-income students.” 

Suthi Navaratnam-Tomayko is an assistant Data editor for the 'Prince.'

Myles Anderson is a staff Data writer for the 'Prince.'

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