Economic Development and Higher Education

Financial support to education in 2015 hits $40.3B

Contributions to higher education institutions rose to unprecedented levels.

January 29, 2016
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Colleges and universities throughout the nation experienced another record breaking year in 2015 in terms of fundraising efforts.

Charitable contributions rose 7.6 percent from $37.45 billion in 2014 to $40.3 billion in 2015, according to the Council for Aid to Education’s 2015 Voluntary Support of Education report.

That is the highest recorded amount since the survey was established in 1957, breaking the previous record set in 2014. In the West Michigan region, eight higher education institutions raised more than $144.5 million.

CAE’s annual publication featured comprehensive data for more than 1,000 higher-education institutions, including both the type of funding source and the intended purpose of the contributions. Data is collected through the VSE survey, which is sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Among the 28 Michigan-based colleges and universities listed, there were eight academic institutions representing the West Michigan region. Calvin College, Hope College, Lake Michigan College and Western Michigan University experienced an increase in fundraising, while Aquinas College, Ferris State University, Grand Valley State University and Kalamazoo College saw a slight decline in charitable contributions, according to the VSE report.

At the national level, 61.2 percent of the $40.3 billion raised during 2015 was allocated toward current operations; the remaining 38.8 percent went toward capital purposes such as endowments, buildings, property, equipment and loans.

Charitable donations from alumni rose nearly 10.2 percent, from $9.85 billion in 2014 to $10.85 billion in 2015; contributions from non-alumni rose 23.1 percent, from $6.5 billion in 2014 to $8.0 billion in 2015.

Although support from corporations remained relatively stagnant at $5.75 billion, gifts from foundations saw a modest increase of 3.6 percent from $11.2 billion in 2014 to $11.6 billion in 2015. The only decline in contributions was from “other organizations,” which fell from $4.15 billion to $4.1 billion.

Karen Loth, vice president for university development at GVSU, said private gifts make it possible to meet student needs at a growing institution while maintaining affordability, accessibility, relevancy and excellence.

“Donor support provides the margin of excellence that students and employers have come to expect from a Grand Valley education,” said Loth. “GVSU was founded and funded initially by the citizens of West Michigan, and we are extremely grateful for this legacy of community support, which continues to this day.”

GVSU had nearly $11.2 million in charitable contributions during 2015, a decline from $16.4 million in 2014, according to the report.

Loth indicated private gifts to the university are primarily used to provide support for scholarships, academic programs and centers, and capital projects.

“Gifts to GVSU go directly to benefit students,” said Loth. “They provide for better access and affordability through scholarships, help keep academic programs relevant, and enhance our learning environment to better support student needs.”

Some of the projects GVSU has completed over the years with the support of private contributions are: Robert C. Pew downtown Grand Rapids campus, Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences, P. Douglas Kindschi Hall of Science, Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons, Meijer Campus in Holland, and Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon.

“Beyond the visible capital projects, Grand Valley’s academic programs and academic centers like the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies have significantly benefitted from private support,” said Loth. “Scholarships have also grown exponentially in the past decade and continue to grow, thanks to generous donors.”

Aquinas College had nearly $9.96 million in contributions for 2015, FSU had $8.7 million, and Kalamazoo College had $18.5 million.

Calvin College increased support from $23.4 million in 2014 to $24.7 million in 2015; Western Michigan University’s charitable contributions rose from $44 million in 2014 to $44.9 million in 2015; and Lake Michigan College had approximately $2 million in gifts in 2015, up from $408,000 in 2014.

Hope College saw its charitable contributions rise from $22.5 million in 2014 to $24.6 million in 2015. The college completed the approximately eight-year financial campaign called A Greater Hope in 2015, exceeding the initial goal of $175 million by raising $203.5 million in gifts and pledges.

Jeff Puckett, vice president for development and alumni engagement at Hope College, said the campaign represents the largest and most successful fundraising effort in Hope’s history.

“The immediate visceral reaction is just one of incredible excitement and enthusiasm. To say we were absolutely ecstatic about raising $203 million in a $175 million effort, and be able to broadcast legitimately this is a first, we have never done this, is tremendous,” said Puckett.

“Certainly in a marketing, communications and messaging context, the ability to create and sustain significant development in the fundraising momentum for the next effort — that just can’t be overstated.”

During the last two years, Puckett indicated the majority of support to Hope has been led by the alumni base with 37 percent of total dollars, followed closely by the parent population, which has had an average of 26 percent of funds. The remaining financial support comes from corporations, foundations and non-alumni friends of the institution.

The funds from A Greater Hope have been used to develop 182 endowed scholarships, which are already benefitting nearly 525 students; create 10 endowed professorships across disciplines, which adds value to programming and is a useful recruiting and retaining tool; and dedicated a portion of the additional $80 million college endowment toward undergraduate research and innovation.

Capital projects at Hope include the Van Andel Soccer Stadium, Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, Kruizenga Art Museum, Haworth Engineering Center and Jim and Martie Bultman Student Center.

“We have changed the landscape of the college — not just metaphorically but physically,” said Puckett. “That is especially critical to provide national world-class facilities for our faculty, staff and students, which of course helps facilitate a higher quality of programming and quite frankly, significantly helps with recruitment issues.”

Puckett indicated Hope’s attention to stewardship, personal engagement with donors, and showing the return on investment and engagement has been a tremendous boon for the college.

“It is really in our DNA in terms of how we go about the development process here,” he said. “There is also a lot of commentary about donors being more willing to invest in a vision … that they clearly understand touches real lives, and there are bona fide national-class, world-class programs to which they can contribute.”

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