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University Endowments Reached Record Levels In 2014


The annual ranking of college fundraising is out, and it's a shocker. The Council for Aid to Education found a massive upswing in money going to big universities last year. Stacy Palmer writes for the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

STACY PALMER: We saw a record amount of money being raised. It was $37.45 billion raised by all colleges and universities, and more than a billion dollars was raised by Harvard University.

RATH: Over $1 billion for Harvard alone. Stanford was right behind with $928 million. I asked Palmer why these schools are seeing such huge numbers.

PALMER: The economy is the biggest factor. And one of the things we really see is that it's the very rich that are giving most generously, and it's the schools that they favor that are tending to benefit the most.

RATH: And what kind of gifts are we talking about?

PALMER: We're talking about huge gifts. In some cases, there are $100 million gifts being made. Some of those are in the form of art collections and other things like that, but some of it's flat-out cash.

RATH: And is there bit of competition here? I sort of get the sense of that reading about Harvard and Yale.

PALMER: There's huge competition for donations in general, and certainly, the colleges like to rank themselves according to who raises the most. That's one of the signs of their influence. So it's not just the money, but the fact that they have the prestige of saying that they raised the most. And those kinds of things help in the rankings, too, when you're looking at which college is the top.

RATH: And when we're talking about the really big donations to the really rich schools, the numbers are so big, I kind of need some perspective. What does it mean for Harvard to get a $1 billion?

PALMER: It's an amazing amount of money, and one of the things that's really striking is just how clustered at the top the list is. The top 20 institutions raised 30 percent of all the contributions that are made. You know, a lot of people had the reaction when they saw that money at Harvard, saying how could Harvard possibly need a billion dollars 'cause already got a big endowment. But, of course, doing scientific research, educating students - all those kinds of things are getting really expensive. And one of the things Harvard has made a big commitment to is making sure that it's need-blind. That means that anybody, no matter what your income - if you're qualified to go to Harvard, you can go. So those are the kind of things that this money goes to.

RATH: But what about that growing gap between the richest colleges - you know, the Harvards and the Stanfords - and the rest? What does it mean for schools that can't raise anything close to those amounts?

PALMER: That's what's truly worrisome - is there are thousands of colleges that just struggle to be able to raise private sums. And that's whether they're public or private. Public institutions aren't getting as much money from the states as they used to. They have to keep up with all these advances in technology and educating students, and yet, they're not able to do that, let alone provide all the aid that students need. So that's why you see tuitions going up.

RATH: Is this amount of giving sustainable?

PALMER: It seems to be. One of the things that we're seeing is certainly the millennials don't favor colleges as much as people of older generations did. We did a survey recently and found that 75 percent of young people said that they would favor giving to another kind of charity over giving to their college. So it's not a done deal that people are going to keep giving quite as generously to colleges.

RATH: That's Stacy Palmer of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Stacy, thanks very much.

PALMER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.