Wealthy colleges see most growth.
For 99 percent of colleges, it was a pretty good fundraising year. For the 1 percent of super-wealthy elite, it was a much better one that catapulted them even farther ahead of the pack.
The latest annual college fundraising figures out today show donations to colleges and universities rose 8.2 percent in fiscal 2011, crossing back over the $30 billion mark for just the second time ever and improving many schools’ financial footing after several lean years caused by the economic downturn.
But the very richest universities accounted for nearly half of the growth: Of the $30.3 billion collected by colleges and universities nationwide, $8.2 billion — or 27 percent — was raised by just the top 20 institutions. At those universities, fundraising was 15.3 percent higher than the year before, widening an already yawning wealth gap at the top of higher education.
Stanford University, which recently broke an all-time record by completing a five-year, has $6.2 billion fundraising campaign, led with $709.4 million collected in fiscal 2011. Stanford University was followed by Harvard ($639.2 million) and Yale ($580.3 million) in 2011.
Rounding out the list were private universities such as Columbia and Johns Hopkins, as well as elite public universities such as the Universities of California-Los Angeles, Texas, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Most campuses on the list have major medical schools and affiliated research centers, though No. 4 MIT ($534 million) is an exception.
In fact, the top 20 schools account for 2 percent of the 1,009 respondents to the annual Voluntary Support of Education survey by Council for Aid to Education. But they highlight a fundraising distribution that calls to mind last year’s Occupy protests against U.S. income inequality.
In fact, the fundraising distribution in higher education is more skewed than income: The top 25 percent of universities account for 86 percent of all private dollars raised for higher education, and the bottom quarter account for just 1 percent.
For colleges, the rich-get-richer trend feeds on itself in multiple ways. Already wealthy universities can afford more staff to raise funds, and they have a disproportionate share of wealthy alumni. But they’re also able to attract the most promising researchers, which helps them win the competition for dollars from philanthropists who want their money to have the best chance of creating new knowledge.
“The institutions that raise the most, they raise the most because they have a case to make for needing that much support,” said survey director Ann Kaplan.
The fundraising numbers come a few weeks after another report showed that college endowments — the investments universities hold to generate income in support of their mission — also have nearly recovered from a hit that began with the 2008 stock market crash and forced many schools to make painful budget cuts. The average college endowment returned 19.2 percent in fiscal 2011, according to data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund.
There were 73 institutions with endowments of more than $1 billion, led by Harvard with $31.7 billion — though that’s still off its peak of about $37 billion at the end of 2008. The billionaire schools account for $285 billion — or 70 percent — of the $408 billion in endowment money held by all colleges and universities.
Last year’s fundraising total nationally remains $1.3 billion below the 2008 peak of $31.6 billion, and while some non-elite schools had good years, many were still struggling as the economy sputtered last year.
Alumni giving rose 9.9 percent nationally, and accounted for about 26 percent of the donations colleges receive. Corporate donations rose 6.6 percent. Donations from foundations, which remain the largest source of support at about 29 percent, rose 3.3 percent.