Charitable giving to colleges and universities increased 2.3 percent in 2012, according to a report issued today by the Council for Aid to Education. Indexed for inflation, this represents only a 0.2 percent increase.
"Prior to 2009, giving increased every year after we emerged from the 2001 recession," said Ann Kaplan, the survey's director, via e-mail. "In recovery periods, I would expect overall slower growth, which enables an outlier [i.e., a particularly large gift] to have a greater effect on the average."
The primary reason for the slight net increase is the gain in donations for current operations; those contributions were up 6.2 percent from last year. Gifts for capital purposes, on the other hand, saw a decline of 3.2 percent.
“In restricted endowments, student financial aid is the largest portion of those gifts by a long shot; it’s 33.6 percent this year,” said Kaplan. “Student financial aid is the big one when it comes to endowment giving.”
Gifts for endowments may be particularly valued. After a 16.7 increase in average endowment values in 2011, 2012 saw no change in those values, and 55.7 percent of institutions reported an overall drop in endowment values. A survey released earlier this month  showed that, for the third time in five years, the average return on higher education endowments was negative.
Across different types of institutions, changes in contributions varied widely. The biggest increase in contributions was found at multiple-campus public colleges and universities, with a 7.1 percent increase. Institution types that saw a decline included master’s institutions (a decline of 3.4 percent), baccalaureate institutions (0.7 percent) and specialized institutions (0.8 percent).
Stanford University was the single institution to raise the most money, with $1.03 billion; this figure makes it the first institution to earn over $1 billion in a year. Stanford has been the top institution for voluntary contributions for the past eight years. Kaplan noted that a list of the overall schools that raised the most had not been made for 2012. “We were hoping to move away from the association between ‘raised the most’ and ‘is the best,’ ” Kaplan said via e-mail. “I believe that implication exists.”
In terms of contributions per student, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center led, with an average of $590,719 per student. The top 20 institutions for individual-student donations are eclectic, including medical schools, schools of theology, private liberal arts schools and private research universities. A list of these institutions and their per-student contributions is reprinted below.
The survey found that both contributions from alumni and alumni participation, or the proportion of alumni making contributions, dropped. According to the survey, this drop can be attributed in part to an increase in “alumni of record," or alumni for whom the institution has a means of contact. This makes the drop “a positive sign that institutions are keeping better records,” the report asserts
Kaplan indicated that “signs are positive” with regard to charitable contributions over the next year. Kaplan stressed the inexact nature of predicting such measures: “[N]o one knows precisely how strong the economy will be in June, when universities make their fiscal year-end appeals,” Kaplan said, according to the CAE report. “And, many other factors matter, including tax legislation, the incidence and value of major gifts, and the cases individual institutions advance for support.”
Institutions that Raised the Most per Student (and Amount Raised per Student), 2012
1. University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center ($590,719)
2. University of Texas Health Center at Tyler ($163,225)
3. University of California at San Francisco ($69,864)
4. Deep Springs College ($67,334)
5. Stanford University ($55,745)
6. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas ($48,669)
7. Yale University ($45,803)
8. California Institute of Technology ($44,576)
9. Hillsdale College ($41,506)
10. Amherst College ($36,399)
11. Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($34,795)
12. Phillips Theological Seminary ($34,611)
13. Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology ($34,512)
14. Baylor College of Medicine ($33,528)
15. Union Theological Seminary & Presbyterian School of Christian Education ($32,877)
16. Oregon Health & Science University ($32,677)
17. Princeton University ($31,306)
18. Harvard University ($30,892)
19. Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary ($30,800)
20. Bethany Theological Seminary ($27,907)
Source: Council for Aid to Education