College endowments may have grown last year by the smallest amount since 2012, as reported elsewhere on this site today, but institutions got some good financial news in the 2015 fiscal year: charitable contributions to colleges and universities rose to a record level, $40.3 billion, the Council for Aid to Education reports in its annual Voluntary Support of Education survey.
Even so, a small and exclusive coterie of institutions is disproportionately benefiting from donors' largesse. The top 17 colleges and universities -- less than 1 percent of the total universe of about 3,900 institutions -- accounted for more than a quarter of the contributions, $10.42 billion. And 60 colleges and universities, under 2 percent of all institutions, received $20.15 billion, half of the total.
The wealth gap in higher education is not a new story, by any means, but it is being fed, not closed, by the behavior of major donors.
The 2015 fiscal year brought at least eight gifts of $100 million or more, up from five the year before, and the eight went to four institutions: Stanford University (four nine-figure gifts, valued at a combined $819 million), Northwestern University (two totaling $201 million), Princeton University (one gift of $293.3 million) and the University of California at San Francisco (one donation of $124.8 million). Those gifts totaled $1.44 billion, nearly half the amount taken in by the 490 surveyed colleges that raised the least, according to the council.