The University of MinnesotaâÄôs athletics endowment is the lowest among Big Ten public universities, according to a survey conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education . Penn State and Ohio State lead the Big Ten with endowments close to $50 million, and the UniversityâÄôs figure is around half of that âÄî about $25 million. If the University continues at last yearâÄôs fundraising rate, it wonâÄôt reach its goal of a $100 million endowment for almost 38 years. Endowments are key for helping the athletics department cover the cost of athletic scholarships, which are critical for recruiting efforts. While Athletics Director Joel Maturi called endowment funds the âÄúlife-bloodâÄù of athletics programs and admitted the UniversityâÄô s is a bit low, he said it hasnâÄôt necessarily been the departmentâÄôs top priority lately. âÄúLetâÄôs be honest, the last three years our major focus hasnâÄôt been endowments, itâÄôs been (TCF Bank Stadium ),âÄù he said. But with the price of scholarships continually rising, Maturi said it has become even more important for scholarships to be at least partially paid for by endowments. The athletics department pays the University about $8.8 million every year to cover the costs of student-athletesâÄô scholarships, Associate Athletics Director David Crum said. ThatâÄôs about 13 percent of the departmentâÄôs latest fiscal budget . While the endowment has grown from about $13 million in 2003 to about $25 million , Crum said the ultimate goal is an amount of more than $100 million. That goal represents the amount of money it would take to fully endow all University sports, he said. While it might seem like a lofty goal compared to where it currently stands, other schools have their eyes set even higher. The University of California-Berkeley has a goal of $500 million , while Duke University wants $350 million, according to results from the same Chronicle of Higher Education survey. Stanford University , a leader with a reported athletics endowment of $500 million, declined to comment on the issue. Stanford has won the DirectorâÄôs Cup , an award given to the top school in college sports each season, for 14 consecutive years. Northwestern University, the only private school in the Big Ten, did not report its endowment numbers. In working toward its goal, the University athletics department raised about $2 million for the endowment during the last fiscal year, Crum said. But future efforts might be slowed by the economy. âÄúThe economy has not helped by any stretch,âÄù Crum said. âÄúItâÄôs a tough time for everybody.âÄù Because endowments are an investment, the market can also dictate what kind of return the school gets on donorsâÄô gifts. FacilitiesâÄô needs are also something that the athletics department will have to weigh as it attempts to fund both capital projects and increase its endowment, Maturi said. âÄúSome (donors) really love the idea of scholarships and some really love the idea of bricks and mortar for a stadium,âÄù he said âÄî which means athletics officials have to gauge what type of people donate to different projects. And as talk swirls around the country about certain sports possibly facing the chopping block at some schools , those with well-established endowments might be able to avoid such program cuts. âÄúThe best way to put your sport on solid ground is to get your sports endowed,âÄù Maturi said.