TIAA Institute study investigates 30-year trends in philanthropy to U.S. higher education institutions

Indiana University researchers found that overall giving continues to grow and giving to public institutions now exceeds that of private ones
NEW YORK (March 31, 2020) – Reversing trends from 30 years before, public institutions in 2018 received more philanthropic dollars than private colleges and universities, according to TIAA Institute research released today. This research provides fresh insight on trends in donor behavior over time, how different groups of donors give across institutions and the purposes donors support.
Using a national sample of about 400 public and private institutions, researchers found that, adjusting for inflation, giving to institutions increased an average of 3.6 percent annually. The research was conducted by Genevieve Shaker from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI and Victor Borden from the Indiana University Bloomington School of Education using data from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s (CASE) Voluntary Support for Education survey (VSE) . Institutions in the study each completed the full VSE survey over a thirty-year period at four study intervals (1988, 1998, 2008, 2018).
“This study equips us with an enormous amount of information regarding the ways that philanthropic giving to higher education has evolved, providing institutional leaders with a roadmap to optimize philanthropic performance,” said Stephanie Bell-Rose, Head of the TIAA Institute. “Using data on changes in donor behavior can help inform approaches to fundraising, to ensure that the money being given to institutions of advanced learning can achieve the greatest possible impact which speaks to TIAA’s interest in the overall financial health of higher education.”
Additional key takeaways from the new TIAA Institute research include:
  • Donors gave more dollars to both current operations and capital/endowment over time, although there were changes in proportions of support within the purposes over time.
  • Donors increasingly limited their gifts by choosing to restrict their donations. They also increasingly gave for institutions’ current rather than long-term (endowment/capital) purposes.
  • Research was the most common recipient of restricted current operations donations, receiving at least one-third of those dollars at each of the four study intervals. Student financial aid received one-eighth or less of the restricted current operations support at each study interval. A smaller proportion of the restricted current operations giving went to student aid in 2018 than in 1988.
“In this study, higher education increasingly received more in private contributions to advance and sustain institutions’ important missions,” Shaker said. “This research helps shed light on a timely issue, including helping colleges and universities better understand donors’ giving behaviors so they can collaborate more effectively. I look forward to doing additional research that will add to the knowledge on this topic.”
The research examined higher education giving by: type of donor (alumni, other individuals, foundations, corporations, other organizations); institutional characteristics; and purpose of the gift (current operations, capital/endowment). The study included primarily four-year institutions and had a special focus on restricted gifts for current operations.
To view the full report, “How donors give to higher education: Thirty years of supporting U.S. college and university missions,” please click HERE .
About the TIAA Institute
The TIAA Institute helps advance the ways individuals and institutions plan for financial security and organizational effectiveness. The institute conducts in-depth research, provides access to a network of thought leaders, and enables those it serves to anticipate trends, plan future strategies and maximize opportunities for success. For more information about the TIAA Institute, visit and follow us on Twitter @TIAAInstitute.
About TIAA
With an award-winning 1 track record for consistent investment performance, TIAA ( is the leading provider of financial services in the academic, research, medical, cultural and government fields. TIAA has $1 trillion in assets under management (as of 12/31/2019 2) and offers a wide range of financial solutions, including investing, banking, advice and education, and retirement services.
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