College Donations Slowed in 2012 as Alumni Giving Dropped

Donations to U.S. colleges and universities rose 2.3 percent in the year through June, less than a third of the previous year’s increase, as more alumni backed away from giving.

Donors gave $31 billion to higher education in fiscal 2012, compared with an 8.2 percent increase to $30.3 billion a year earlier, according to a report released today by the Council for Aid to Education in New York. The amount of donations from alumni declined 1.3 percent, after rising 9.9 percent the previous year, the council said.

Giving to higher education for construction is correlated with changes in the stock market, the council said, citing a 7.4 percent drop in the New York Stock Exchange Composite Index during the year ended in June. Stanford University, which raised a record $1.03 billion in the period, dealt with hesitancy from alumni donors amid the threat of tax increases and government spending cuts that constituted the so-called fiscal cliff, said Martin Shell, vice president for development at the school near Palo Alto, California.

“Donors are not unlike investors in that when there’s uncertainty, they will delay making gifts or postpone talking about it,” Shell said in a telephone interview. “It will be interesting to see a year from now how institutions did in November, December and January, based on some of the concerns we’re hearing from Washington.”

Alumni Donors

The percentage of alumni making gifts fell to 9.2 percent from 9.5 percent a year earlier, and the size of the average alumni gift dropped 1.4 percent. The decrease was partly because more alumni were identified by colleges and received appeals, the report said.

About 53 percent of U.S. schools raised as much or more in 2012 than in the year earlier, according to the report.

Stanford, the fourth-richest U.S. college, defied the slowdown by becoming the first school to raise more than $1 billion in a single year. Stanford has led all U.S. universities in fundraising for eight years, the council said.

Stanford’s endowment was valued at $17 billion at the end of June 2012, according to a Feb. 1 report from the National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund Institute. Harvard University, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the wealthiest U.S. college with an endowment valued at $30.4 billion, followed by Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and the University of Texas system.

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