Higher education giving reaches record levels


The record high in charitable giving to colleges and universities is proving that people and organizations do, in fact, value education — but maybe not as many of them.

According to the Voluntary Support of Education survey conducted by the Council for Aid to Education, charitable donations to universities and colleges in the United States in 2013 increased 9 percent to $33.8 billion from $31 billion in 2012.

Arnold D’Ambrosio, vice president of alumni and advancement at Northwood University, said he is pleasantly surprised with the numbers.

“Some of the numbers show that people are feeling more comfortable about giving,” said D’Ambrosio. “There is momentum that is building in giving to higher education.”

Northwood University has several locations, including the Grand Rapids campus in Michigan, Florida and Texas. Even though the charitable donations ultimately are wrapped into one fund, the university keeps close track of which commitments are designated for specific campuses.

In 2013, Northwood University received roughly $9 million in commitments, which is considered a good year, according to D’Ambrosio, but not the highest contribution level the university has seen.

“In the last couple of years, we have also had some institutional highs,” said D’Ambrosio. In two of the past four years, the university reached record levels of more than $15 million. He said Northwood officials believe this year will turn out even better than 2013.

The amount of financial contributions to U.S. academic institutions in 2013 did not surprise Donald MacKenzie, executive director of the Grand Rapids Community College Foundation.

“Historically, people have been very supportive of higher education, and I think part of it is just paying it forward,” said MacKenzie. “They see it as a very valuable investment.”

GRCC received slightly more than $4.3 million in restricted and unrestricted financial funding, according to MacKenzie. 

Restricted dollars refer to funds earmarked for specific programs, endeavors or building projects. Unrestricted funds are used to support the college in general. The foundation board and president at GRCC choose how to delegate the funds.

According to the survey, not only did 59.5 percent of respondents report an increase in fundraising in 2013, but there also was an increase in support for current operations of 6.9 percent and for capital purposes of 12.4 percent. Funds used for current operations often are used for current-year expenditures, while capital purposes refer to property, buildings, equipment and loan expenses.

In fact, Grand Valley State University reported a record endowment of $98.5 million for 2013. Most of the funds will go toward scholarships and academic programming, according to a statement from the university.

The survey breaks down the sources into alumni, non-alumni individuals, corporations, foundations, religious organizations and other organizations. Despite a 2.9 percent, or $150 million, decrease in corporate giving, the total percentage change in voluntary support increased due to larger donations from other sources.

Alumni and foundation financial support are the two leading sources of donations for colleges and universities for both 2012 and 2013. Foundation commitment increased from approximately $9.2 million in 2012 to $10 million in 2013, a 9.3 percent rise. Alumni contributions increased from $7.7 million to $9 million, or 16.9 percent from 2012 to 2013. Alumni participation in terms of number of donors decreased, according to the report, but the loss was offset by a higher level of giving among those who made financial commitments.

“It is showing that you have to be very good about identifying the people you can go to in order to get the gifts,” said D’Ambrosio. Researching and making those connections are key, he said.

While the majority of financial support for Northwood University stems from individuals, most donations for GRCC come from area businesses, corporations and foundations. MacKenzie said he feels area businesses and corporations recognize GRCC’s strength in areas such as work-force development.

“A lot of our two-year degrees prepare people to go right into the work force,” said MacKenzie. “So they are seeing an immediate return on their investment by supporting GRCC.”

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