Giving to U.S. Higher Education Rose Nearly 7% to $52.9 Billion
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Voluntary Support of Education survey findings released today by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education show giving to U.S. higher education institutions rose 6.9% in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021, buoyed largely by donations to restricted endowments, which often fund scholarships. The VSE survey is the definitive source of information on philanthropic support to higher education institutions in the United States.
Total giving to colleges and universities in the United States reached US$52.9 billion during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, up from $49.50 billion the previous year.
"The incredible generosity during the most challenging period in generations demonstrates how strongly alumni and other supporters value colleges and universities in the United States," says Sue Cunningham, CASE President and CEO. "As the nation’s institutions focused on their missions of teaching students, engaging in vital research, and serving the needs of their students and communities during an unprecedented year, people took notice and invested in the transformational work conducted at America’s colleges and universities. This is a powerful indicator of how valuable and valued these institutions are."
Foundations and alumni continue to be lead benefactors of U.S. higher education, generously contributing a combined 56.3% of all reported gifts. A combination of nonalumni individuals, corporations, and other organizations provided the remainder of the support.
The overall increase was driven in large part by alumni, whose contributions rose 10.8% during the 2021 fiscal year. Alumni giving earmarked for capital purposes rose 23.4%, and alumni giving for current operations also grew strongly—by 6.3%.
Capital purpose gifts include gifts to endowments, gifts of or for property, buildings, and equipment, gifts to loan funds, and irrevocable deferred gifts. In 2021, gifts from all donor types to restricted endowments rose 16.7% while all other types of capital purpose gifts were either unchanged or declined.
"Gifts to endowments are earmarked for scholarships more than any other purpose," said Senior Director of CASE VSE Ann E. Kaplan, noting that donors restricted 38.2% of such gifts for student financial aid. "The hardships that many students experienced over recent years likely formed the basis of fundraising appeals, and it appears donors responded."
Addressing critical needs may have been a strong motivator behind another noteworthy finding in this year’s survey. Gifts with no restrictions whatsoever surged 30.2%.
"While such contributions remain among of the smallest categories of gifts, representing 7.4% of the 2021 total, they can be transformative," Kaplan said.
Community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities, for instance, were among those that reported large increases in unrestricted gifts. Fifteen community colleges and 11 HBCUs stated their gift receipts had more than doubled, a rise that included more unrestricted contributions.
Billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott played a role in many of these institutions’ increased contribution receipts, as did large gifts from Michael Bloomberg to several HBCU medical schools, one of which reported to the CASE VSE survey in 2021.
"We’ve seen overall increases in unrestricted giving in response to the visibility of stark local needs, which were exacerbated by the pandemic," said Cara Giacomini, CASE Vice President for Data, Research and Technology. "This general trend along with a recognition and desire among those with means to bridge those gaps boosted giving to certain institutions."
Last year, CASE published the first edition of the CASE Global Reporting Standards (previously the CASE Reporting and Management Guidelines). The CASE VSE survey will begin integrating the Global Reporting Standards in the 2022 CASE VSE survey collection, which begins in July.
While these changes do not greatly affect which contributions are counted, they clarify how to value certain transactions. For example, they clarify how to value gifts that procure preferred athletic seating, irrevocable deferred gifts, and pledges.
Over the past two decades, contributions from donor-advised funds rose from under 2% of total support to nearly 10%. In addition, their prominence in the category “Other Organizations,” in which they are mingled with other types of organizations, rose from one-fifth of that category to over 80%. In view of the significant role such entities play in contemporary philanthropy, DAFs will appear as a distinct category of donor on the next CASE VSE survey.
See more findings here from the 2020-2021 CASE VSE survey. For additional context about what undergirds CASE’s benchmarking surveys visit the Global Reporting Standards.
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