Higher education raised $40.3 billion from donors in 2015

29% of all donations went to 20 schools

U.S. colleges and universities raised a total of $40.3 billion in 2015, a 7.6% increase over 2014, with nearly 29% of all the money raised going toward just 20 colleges, according to a new survey.  

The Council for Aid to Education (CAE) collected fundraising information from nearly 1,000 colleges and universities for its Voluntary Support of Education survey.

Stanford University once again landed the top spot—the 10th time in the last 11 years—raising $1.63 billion in 2015. Stanford VP for development Martin Shell attributes the large amount of funding to support for the university's medical center and a major art donation.

"We had a remarkable year last year," he says.

Rounding out the top five fundraising schools were:

  • Harvard University ($1.05 billion);
  • University of Southern California ($653.03 million)
  • University of California-San Francisco ($608.58 million); and
  • Cornell University ($590.64 million).

Large individual donations

The survey also found philanthropists made eight donations worth at least $100 million each to four colleges in 2015, totaling $1.44 billion. The total amount of donations from individuals also increased by 10.2% to $10.85 billion, accounting for 26.9% of the total amount raised.

How did crowdfunding perform in 2015?

And many individuals were donating to institutions they didn't graduate from—those donations increased by 23.1% in 2015. Meanwhile, donations from family foundations increased by 3.6%, and corporate giving remained flat.

Donors increased their support of college operations by 13.1%, while capital giving remained flat. As a result, endowment values increased by only 3%, compared with 15% the previous year.

Why a few schools get so many donations

The share of donations made to top fundraising schools has been slowly increasing over the past ten years, in part because those institutions have a range of elite programs that each attract donors, according to CAE Survey Director Ann Kaplan. "If you've got an institution that has a hospital, art museum, symphony orchestra, and research labs, then obviously there are more areas that would appeal to different types of interests on the part of philanthropists," she says.

She also notes that donors want to make the best use of their assets and see donating stock to a university with a strong endowment or art to a college with a well-known museum as strong investments (Koenig, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/27; Rauber, San Francisco Business Times, 1/26).

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