Giving to the nation’s colleges and universities rose 8.2 percent in 2011, to $30.3 billion, or $1.3 million less than the highest amount — $31.6 billion in 2009 — ever captured in the annual Voluntary Support of Education survey, a new report from the Council for Aid to Education finds. Adjusted for inflation, giving to the nation’s colleges and universities increased 4.8 percent.

The twenty institutions that raised the most in 2011 received a total of $8.24 billion — 15.8 percent more than the top twenty institutions received in 2010. Once again topping the list, Stanford University raised $709.4 million, followed by Harvard ($639.15 million), Yale ($580.3 million), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($534.3 million), and Columbia ($495.5 million). Although the top twenty fundraising institutions represent 2 percent of the 1,009 survey respondents, contributions to those schools accounted for 27.2 percent of total giving to higher education institutions in 2011, while the increase in giving to those twenty institutions — $1.1 billion — represented nearly half the increase ($2.3 billion) to all institutions.

Foundation giving accounted for the largest portion of contributions (28.6 percent) reported, followed by alumni (25.7 percent), non-alumni (18.6 percent), corporations (16.6 percent), other organizations (9.4 percent), and religious groups (1 percent). Nevertheless, individual donations drove the overall increase in giving, with alumni giving rising 9.9 percent and non-alumni contributions up 14.8 percent. In addition, the sum of the twenty largest personal gifts captured by the survey was 22.9 percent higher than in 2010, while the sum of the twenty largest bequests was 72 percent larger.

“The philanthropic spirit is deeply engrained in people, and higher education institutions provide programs that speak to a wide range of philanthropic interests,” said VSE director Ann E. Kaplan. “In that way, these institutions can and should make the case for support even when the economy is weak. Thereby, when the capacity to give increases, the stage is set for giving to follow suit.”

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