News and analysis
January 27, 2016

U.S. Colleges Raise $40 Billion; Stanford Tops List at $1.6 Billion

Rose Lincoln, Harvard University

Harvard raised $1.05 billion last year, thanks in part to a $400-million gift from hedge-fund titan John Paulson, right.

U.S. colleges raised $40.3 billion in 2015, an increase of 7.6 percent over the previous year, a new study has found. Giving to higher education has increased every year since 2010.

The Voluntary Support of Education survey, conducted by the Council for Aid to Education, collected fund-raising information from nearly 1,000 colleges and universities. The $40.3 billion figure is an estimate that extrapolates from the survey results to include amounts for institutions that did not respond.

The Council for Aid to Education has been conducting the survey since 1957. It predicts that charitable support of U.S. colleges will increase modestly in 2016.

Nearly 29 percent of all money raised in 2015 — $11.56 billion — went to just 20 colleges. Stanford University raised the most, $1.63 billion. Strong support for Stanford’s medical center plus a major art donation helped it secure the top spot, said Martin Shell, the university’s vice president for development. Stanford has led the pack for 10 out of the last 11 years.

Stanford was followed by Harvard University, which raised $1.05 billion, and the University of Southern California, at $653.03 million.

The University of California at San Francisco and Cornell University rounded out the top five, raising $608.58 million and $590.64 million, respectively. UCSF jumped in the rankings from 12th in 2014 to fourth in 2015 thanks to a $100 million gift from Charles F. Feeney, who made his wealth through the Duty Free Shopping Group, to the university’s new hospitals and research programs focused on aging and the neurosciences.

Concentrated Wealth

The data is likely to fuel a growing chorus of criticism about wealthy donors pouring cash into elite universities that already enjoy enormous endowments, rather than spreading their giving to more needy institutions. The proportion of donations going to the top fund-raising colleges has slowly increased over the past decade, said Ann E. Kaplan, survey director for CAE. She attributes that trend to the fact that those colleges have an array of prestigious programs that attract donors.

"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 said.

Donors also are drawn to institutions that seem to be good stewards of their assets, Ms. Kaplan said. They look to donate stock to a university with a high-performing endowment, for example, and art to a college with a prominent museum.

The promise of significant exposure for their art collection led Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson and their daughter, Mary Patricia Anderson Pence, to donate 121 paintings and sculptures to Stanford, Mr. Shell said: "They wanted to put it in a place where it could be seen by the world."

Colleges and universities continue to be preferred charities for big donors. Many of the multimillion-dollar gifts made and pledged in 2015 benefited higher-education institutions, according to a year-end analysis conducted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Among them was a $400-million pledge by hedge-fund titan John Paulson and his wife, Jenny, to Harvard University.

U.S. universities attract significant private support in part because donors appreciate their efforts to tackle major global challenges, Mr. Shell said.

$100-Million Club

According to the survey, philanthropists made eight donations worth at least $100 million each, totaling $1.44 billion, to four colleges in 2015. These included the Andersons’ gift of art to Stanford, which was first announced in 2014, and a gift of rare books to Princeton University by alumnus William H. Scheide, an oil heir.

Giving by individual alumni increased by 10.2 percent and, at $10.85 billion, accounted for 26.9 percent of the total amount raised. Giving by people who did not graduate from the colleges to which they donated increased by 23.1 percent. Corporate giving stayed steady, while gifts from family foundations increased 3.6 percent.

Although contributions made for current college operations increased 13.1 percent, donations for capital purposes, such as endowments and campus buildings, didn’t change. The council attributes the lack of growth to the relatively weak stock-market performance in 2015 and also to the fact that gifts for capital purposes increased by 23.3 percent the previous year, setting a high bar for 2015.

Total endowment values among survey respondents increased only 3 percent in 2015, compared to 15 percent in 2014.

Stanford Tops Fundraising List

Universities broke records in 2015 with a collective fundraising total of $40.3 billion.

Institution Amount Raised in 2015
Stanford University $1.63 billion
Harvard University $1.05 billion
University of Southern California $653.03 million
University of California-San Francisco $608.58 million
Cornell University $590.64 million
Johns Hopkins University $582.68 million
Columbia University $552.68 million
Princeton University $549.84 million
Northwestern University $536.83 million
University of Pennsylvania $517.20 million
University of California-Los Angeles $473.21 million
Duke University $472.01 million
University of Washington $447.02 million
University of Chicago $443.79 million
Yale University $440.81 million
New York University $439.66 million
Massachusetts Institute of Technology $439.40 million
University of Michigan $394.31 million
University of Notre Dame $379.87 million
University of California-Berkeley $366.12 million
UCSF jumped in the rankings from 12th in 2014 to fourth in 2015 thanks to a $100 million gift from Charles F. Feeney to the university’s new hospitals and research programs focused on aging and the neurosciences

 

Correction: This article has been updated to include the Council for Aid to Education’s prediction for growth in fundraising this year. Also, an earlier version said that University of California at San Francisco jumped in its rankings due in part to a $177 million gift from Charles F. Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies instead of a personal gift from Mr. Feeney of $100 million. That earlier version also mistakenly referred to the Council for Aid to Education as CASE.

Send an email to Rebecca Koenig.