After falling off during the recession, donations to institutions of higher learning in 2010 recovered to the level they last reached in 2006. But after adjusting for inflation, giving was still 8% lower than in that year, according to the Voluntary Support of Education survey. The nation's colleges and universities received charitable contributions of $28 billion, an increase of 0.5% from 2009, according to the annual survey, conducted by the nonprofit Council for Aid to Education.
Giving from corporations, foundations and other organizations is largely responsible for the increase in 2010, while personal giving declined slightly.
Still, the findings represent a marked improvement over 2009, when giving to colleges and universities dropped almost 12%, the steepest decline in the survey's 50-year history.
"Giving has started to return to healthier levels, but it still has a way to go," says Ann Kaplan, director of the survey of 996 colleges and universities.
College giving is a reflection of what's happening in the economy as a whole, which isn't recovering quickly, adds Kaplan. "You can't see into the future, but the value of recovering the stock market will have a positive effect on charitable giving to colleges and universities," she says.
In 2010, Stanford University raised more from private donors than any other university ($598.89 million), followed by Harvard University ($596.96 million) and Johns Hopkins University ($427.59 million).
Both overall alumni giving and the average amount of alumni donations decreased 0.4% last year. In comparison, there was an 18% drop in giving by alumni and non-alumni donors in 2009.
The survey noted that 10% of alumni donated to their alma maters in 2009, while 9.8% gave in 2010, in a continuation of a decade-long trend of steady declines in alumni participation. "Participation is going down," says Kaplan, "and there hasn't been a year where it's gone up in a least a decade."