Key Issues Facing Higher Education Philanthropy

Insights Report

In an era of declining public funding, private philanthropy has played an increasingly vital role for both public and private institutions.


This report, jointly sponsored by the TIAA Institute and the American Council on Education (ACE), illuminates important shifts in American philanthropy driven by economic, demographic and technological forces and the implications for U.S. colleges and universities. The author examines factors that influence gifts of a million dollars or more, analyzes giving by American households over time, and explores areas for expanding an aging donor base.

Key Insights

  • In 2017, nearly half of all donations from the 50 top donors in the U.S. went to colleges and universities.
  • Beyond large gifts, philanthropy to higher education has benefited from gifts of all sizes and from donors of all income levels.
  • Given women's rising power and influence in philanthropy, enlisting female donors’ active participation is vital.
  • Higher education institutions can take advantage of expanded fundraising tools, such as impact investing, online campaigns and cause marketing.

In 2017, total giving by Americans surpassed $410 billion for the first time, with education receiving the second largest share of charitable dollars, after religion.


To examine how economic and demographic forces have changed higher education philanthropy, the author draws from several data sources, including the Million Dollar List, a study housed at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and the ongoing Philanthropy Panel Study, a module within the University of Michigan’s Panel Study of Income Dynamics.


Una Osili

Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

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