College Foundations Aim Higher, but Performance Stays Almost Flat

Another day, another set of data sketching the continuing financial doldrums of higher education, this time regarding the performance of college foundations.

In its annual survey of 88 institutionally related foundations, released on Tuesday, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education found that 63.6 percent of respondents had experienced a drop in the value of their endowments in the 2012 fiscal year. The median decrease in value was 1.6 percent. Among the 31.8 percent of institutions that saw an increase in endowment value, the gains were modest, at a median 1.2 percent.

The median amount of private money raised per institution last year actually increased from the 2011 fiscal year, from $11.3-million to $15.8-million, but the report accompanying the survey notes that the respondents in the latest survey included several more research/doctoral institutions than the previous survey did (59 percent, up from 55 percent for 2011), which may in part account for the increase.

Even though fund raising remains a challenge for foundations—or maybe because it’s tough out there—fund raisers are getting more ambitious. The median goal for continuing or recently completed campaigns rose to $250-million, up from $150-million in 2011.

Separated out by institution type, the data become more revealing. Research/doctoral universities increased their campaign goals, with the median rising from $675-million to $875-million since the last CASE survey, but other colleges were thinking even bigger. Master’s-granting respondents increased the goals to a median of $100-million, more than double the median goal of $42-million for 2011, while community colleges increased their campaign goals to a median of $25-million, three times the median of $8-million for 2011.

Community colleges, which made up 18 percent of respondents in the latest survey, often lack robust fund-raising programs. A CASE survey released this year indicated that many community colleges had put little effort and few resources into alumni relations.

While median endowment values at respondent research/doctoral and master’s-granting institutions both rose from 2011 to 2012, according to the new CASE data, median community-college endowments dipped from $9-million in 2011 to $8-million in 2012.

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