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New Report Details Charitable Giving to Colleges and Universities

February 15, 2017

The fundraising picture for U.S. colleges and universities in FY16 was mixed, according to the latest Voluntary Support of Education survey, conducted annually by the Council for Aid to Education.

U.S. higher education institutions received $41 billion in charitable contributions FY16—just 1.7 percent higher than FY15’s total of $40.30 billion. After adjusting for inflation, donations to the higher education sector grew only 0.4 percent. Low stock market returns during FY16 likely depressed total giving.

Further, the survey shows that just 20 institutions (less than 1 percent of the colleges and universities in the survey) received 27.1 percent ($11.12 billion) of all charitable gifts in 2016. However, gifts to those institutions fell by 2.1 percent.

While the largest share of donors’ gifts was earmarked for research, the percentage of contributions dedicated to student scholarships and other forms of financial aid has grown over the past decade. From 2006 to 2016, giving to campus financial aid programs grew from 15.9 percent of total contributions to 16.8 percent.

Foundations provided about 30 percent of the total financial gifts to colleges and universities in FY16, followed by institutions’ alumni (24 percent), non-alumni (18 percent), and corporations (16 percent).  While contributions from foundations rose 7.3 percent in current (not adjusted for inflation) dollars, the amount of alumni gifts decreased 8.5 percent.  Gifts from corporations rose 14.8 percent.

A press release on the findings is available online; the full report and ancillary presentations will be available for purchase in spring 2017.


Lesley McBain
Assistant Director, Research and Policy Analysis