Higher Ed’s $37.5 Billion Is A Record

Propelled by a strong stock market, charitable contributions to the nation’s colleges and universities had their biggest gains in 15 years, reaching a record high of $37.45 billion last year, according to the Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE).

The $37.45 billion is the highest recorded since the inception of the survey in 1957, and the 10.8 percent increase in giving, 8.9 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, is the highest since 2000 when giving jumped 13.7 percent.

Gifts from alumni increased 9.4 percent, 7.5 percent adjusted for inflation, and gifts from non-alumni individuals rose 4.8 percent, 3 percent when adjusted for inflation. Alumni giving accounted for 26 percent of the total, or about $9.85 billion – second only to foundations, which contributed 30 percent of the total, or $11.2 billion. Non-alumni giving contributed 17 percent of the total, or $6.5 billion, and corporations about 15 percent of the overall pie, or $5.75 billion.

Gifts for current operations were up 7.9 percent, an inflation-adjusted 6.1 percent, while gifts for capital purposes increased 15.1 percent, or 13.1 percent when inflation is taken into account. About 58 cents out of every dollar went toward current operations while 42 cents went toward capital purposes in 2014.

Stock values affect the level and volume of gifts for capital purposes, which are often made in the form of securities. Most major stock market indices were up between 12 and 28 percent during the last fiscal year for universities (July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014). University endowments also are affected by the markets and the value of endowments for the 959 participating institutions increased by 15 percent.

The top 20 institutions raised $10.70 billion, accounting for 28.6 percent of the 2014 total. Harvard University, in the first public year of a $6.5-billion capital campaign, led all institutions with $1.16 billion – the most ever reported. The Cambridge, Mass.-based university raised almost 46 percent more in 2014 than in 2013 and is one of only two institutions to ever raise more than $1 billion in a single year. Stanford University raised $1.03 billion in 2012 and last year was second to Harvard, raising $928.46 million.

Five institutions reported receiving single gifts of $100 million or more, totaling $698.55 million, compared with three such gifts in 2013. The first reported nine-digit gift on the VSE survey was in 1986 when Washington University of St. Louis received $100 million. That year, giving to colleges and university increased 17.1 percent, reaching $7.4 billion. On average, 12 large gifts accounted for a third of all gifts reported on the typical VSE survey in 2014.

Two of this year’s nine-digit gifts included gifts of art: one to the University of Texas-Austin, valued at $216.62 million, and one to Colby College, valued at $102.6 million. A $115.6 million gift to the University of the Pacific was mostly monetary but included art, in addition to funds to maintain its permanent art collection.

Alumni participation declined to 8.3 percent, down from 8.7 percent the previous year but the number of alumni donors increased 1.2 percent. The number of alumni for whom the reporting institutions have a means of contact increased 7.1 percent.

“Alumni participation does not tell you the whole story about alumni loyalty, and it is certainly not a valid measure of overall quality of an institution, broadly speaking,” said Ann E. Kaplan, survey director. “The only way to use the statistic effectively is a benchmark with peer institutions,” she said.

“Some institutions with high participation rates have poor alumni records,” Kaplan said. “An institution that has fewer than seven alumni of record for each enrolled student should focus on improving its alumni database, even if that practice temporarily reduces its statistical participation rate. Institutions should not sacrifice good practices for the sake of appearance,” she said.

The average gift per contributing alumnus increased 25.5 percent, reaching $1.535. Gifts from alumni for current operations declined 3 percent but increased 13.5 percent for capital purposes.