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Higher education giving expected to reach pre-recession levels

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Colleges and universities depend largely on donations, and if one estimate holds true, giving to higher education institutions is on track to exceed the watermark set before the 2009 recession.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education found in a survey that giving to colleges and universities grew by 5.5 percent in 2012. The survey also predicts additional growth of 5.8 percent in 2013, exceeding "the high watermark set just prior to the recession," according to CASE President John Lippincott.

"This is very good news," he said in a news release.

Donations to higher education institutions reached a record $31.6 billion in the 2007-2008 school year before dramatically declining the next year, thanks in part to the economic downturn. However, giving began to increase again in 2010, reaching $30.3 billion in the 2010-2011 academic year, according to the Voluntary Support of Education report issued by the Council for Aid to Education.

The predicted 2013 growth rate of 5.8 percent is equal to average annual growth rates for the past 20 years, according to VSE figures.

The CASE Funding Index is conducted biannually and asks fundraisers within higher education to estimate the level of charitable giving to their institutions for the 12-month period that's just ended and to predict the level for the 12 months ahead.

"The increased optimism among fundraisers may reflect a number of factors, including what they are hearing directly from donors about their growing confidence in the economy," Lippincott said.

"The increased optimism among fundraisers may reflect a number of factors, including what they are hearing directly from donors about their growing confidence in the economy," Lippincott said.

Also a possible contributor to the uptick in 2012 giving could have been concern about federal government proposals to reduce the charity tax deduction, Lippincott pointed out.

"We heard anecdotally that some donors made major gifts in late 2012 to ensure they received the full tax benefit of their philanthropy," he said. "Thankfully the proposed reductions were not adopted. The charitable tax deduction remains linked to the donor's marginal tax rate, which has been critically important to our strong tradition of philanthropic support of education in the United States."

Both of West Virginia's major four-year institutions saw increased giving in 2012. At Marshall University, gifts and in-kind contributions increased nearly $10 million between fiscal years 2011 and 2012. The school also received a $2.5 million donation from the BrickStreet Foundation to use toward research. Marshall also reached its $15 million West Virginia Research Trust Fund goal earlier this month thanks to a $150,000 donation from Allied Realty.

Meanwhile, West Virginia University's amount of cash and gifts-in-kind for fiscal year 2012 totaled $173.9 million, the highest amount the West Virginia University Foundation has received in its 58-year history. This total includes the largest-ever software donation valued at $71.2 million.

Lippincott stressed that the CFI percentages are averages and that performance at individual institutions will vary based on a variety of factors, such as the maturity of the fundraising program and whether the institution is in a campaign.

The CFI is based on an online survey of senior-level fundraising professionals at more than 2,100 CASE-member institutions in the United States conducted during the first weeks of January. The January 2013 CFI survey had a response rate of 11.7 percent. Results of the CFI since its inception in July 2008 and resources related to the charitable deduction can be found on the CASE website. Both WVU and Marshall are CASE members.