Higher Ed Giving Beats (Barely) Inflation

February 20, 2013       Mark Hrywna      

Buoyed by contributions for current operations, giving to American colleges and universities in 2012 increased 2.3 percent – but just 0.2 percent when adjusted for inflation.

The $31 billion raised overall last year is still short of the historic high of $31.6 billion raised in 2008 – despite the first billion-dollar year by an institution, according to the Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey, released today by the New York City-based Council for Aid to Education (CAE).

Gifts for capital purposes – such as endowments and buildings – was down 3.2 percent to $12.1 billion, compared with giving for current operations, which was up 6.2 percent, to $18.9 billion. The decline in giving for capital purposes follows the decline in the stock market. The New York Stock Exchange index decreased 7.4 percent during the fiscal year, and declined 11.2 percent from July 2011 to the end of 2011.

Almost 53 percent of reporting institutions raised at least the same amount in 2012 as they did in 2011. The average and median percentage changes were both 1.9 percent. The average endowment in the survey did not change last year, after increasing 16.7 percent in 2011. The median also remained the same. Almost 56 percent of institutions reported their endowment values declined.

For the first time, an insitution hit the 10-figure mark in a single year: Stanford University raised more than $1 billion in 2012. The Palo Alto, Calif., school led all colleges and universities in contributions for the eighth consecutive year and the 14th time in the last 30 years. Harvard University raised the most in 15 of those years; the University of Southern California aised the most once, in 2002.

Precollege survey respondents reported a decline in contributions of 3.4 percent, including a 6.8-percent dip for capital purposes. Giving to current operations was up 3.3 percent.

Nearly 30 percent of the overall $31 billion, about $9.15 billion, came from foundations and about a quarter, roughly $7.7 billion, came from alumni. Non-alumni individuals accounted for $5.83 billion, almost 19 percent, and corporations another 17 percent, or $5.25 billion.

Gifts from foundations rose 5.5 percent, corporate contributions were up 4.6 percent and non-alumni individuals increased giving by 3.1 percent. The only source that was down in 2012 was alumni giving, dipping 1.3 percent. The VSE suggested was due to the decline in giving for capital purposes; the average alumni gift declined 1.4 percent but the average gift per alumnus for current operations was up 10. 8 percent.

The percentage of alumni making gifts dropped from 9.5 percent to 9.2 percent, as did undergraduate participation, down from 11.6 percent to 11.2 percent.

The number of alumni of record increased while the number of donors declined, but that’s not altogether bad news. “The more significant factor is the increase in the number of good addresses institutions have in their databases. So, in part, the decline in participation is a positive sign that institutions are keeping better records,” according to the report.

“The signs are positive for 2013, however, no one knows precisely how strong the economy will be in June, when universities make their fiscal year-end appeals,” said survey director Ann E. Kaplan. “Many other factors matter, including tax legislation, the incidence and value of major gifts, and the cases individual institutions advance for support,” she said, adding that it’s just too soon to accurately forecast how much will be raised this year.