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Donations to U.S. Colleges and Universities Increased 8.2 Percent in 2011

February 16, 2012

Total financial contributions to U.S. colleges and universities, which declined sharply during the 2009 recession, have begun to recover. Total voluntary contributions to American higher education institutions, which fell from an all-time high of $31.6 billion in 2008 to $27.85 billion in 2009, rebounded to $30.3 billion in 2011, according to the Council on Aid to Education's (CAE) annual Voluntary Support of Education survey results. Of the 1,009 institutions that responded to CAE survey, 58 percent said their contribution amounts increased, while only one-third reported declines. On average, the total amount of donations received by all respondents increased from $23.6 million to $25.5 million.

Donations directed to endowments and other "capital purpose" functions (such as new buildings) were particularly strong-rising 13.6 percent during the one-year period-while support for current operations grew 4.7 percent. While donations for current operations support accounted for about 59 percent of total contributions in 2011, these funds still account for just 3.8 percent of current fund expenditures. Total giving (current operations and capital purpose combined) represented 6.5 percent of total expenditures.

Increased Giving from Individuals

College and university fundraising appears to have benefited from the improved economy, as more individuals may have been in a better financial position to support higher education institutions. Overall, donations from institutions' alumni grew nearly 10 percent and gifts from non-alumni increased 15 percent. In contrast, according to the 2009 CAE report donations from alumni and non-alumni fell roughly 18 percent during the height of the recession. Collectively, in 2011, personal aid (alumni and non-alumni contributions combined) to higher education institutions accounted for 44.3 percent of the total voluntary support received by institutions. Support from foundations, which represented about 29 percent of the 2011 total, increased 3.3 percent. Corporate donations-17 percent the total in 2011-grew by approximately 6 percent.

Trends Differ by Sector

While the overall results for higher education were positive, there were extreme variations by type of institution. While public and private non-profit research/doctoral universities saw total donations increase 6.6 percent, contributions to public associate's-degree-granting institutions (primarily community colleges) fell 1.9 percent, and total financial gifts to public baccalaureate (liberal arts) colleges declined 5.4 percent. Public specialized institutions (medical schools and other schools with a particular educational specialty) experienced the greatest increase in donations-18.5 percent-followed by private non-profit baccalaureate colleges.

Large research/doctoral universities were the greatest beneficiaries of the increase in voluntary support in 2011. The "top 20" largest research/doctoral universities combined to receive $8.24 billion in donations during the year, compared with $7.12 billion in 2010. The dollar increase to these 20 large institutions accounts for nearly half the total amount of increased donations to all higher education institutions.

Collectively, the top quartile of institutions, as ranked by amount of voluntary donations received, accounted for 86.3 percent of the total donations to all higher education institutions. Donations to the top quartile gained 11.6 percent in 2011. The three lower quartiles of institutions, conversely, received just 13.7 percent of total contributions in 2011, and total support for these schools fell roughly 10 percent between 2010 and 2011.

To order a full copy of the 2011 Voluntary Support of Education report, go to the CAE Web site.


Ken Redd
Director, Research and Policy Analysis