Wendler, Rasberry the history of higher education philanthropy

(Editor’s note: first in a series on philanthropy in higher education.)

Donations in higher education are surpassed only by giving to faith-based organizations in our country. Americans donated $471.44 billion to charitable causes in 2020. Religious donations topped the list with 28% of total donations ($131.08 billion), followed by education with 15% of donations totals ($71.34 billion). More impressive is that individuals gave $324.10 billion of the total given in 2020, representing 68.7% of all philanthropic giving.

Americans are generous. In fact, more generous than any other nation. When it comes to propensity to show charity to others (2009 – 2018), the United States tops the list, followed by Myanmar, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland.


Philanthropic giving to private universities is nothing new. Reverend John Harvard did not invent philanthropy, although his first gift in 1636, which now bears his name, started a 400-year trend in giving that has led to a fundraising culture that continues to transform the world. ‘Higher Education. You could say his gift was the precursor to what is now a professional vocation on every campus in this country. The value of his bequest of 300 book titles in 400 volumes to the library was intended to empower Harvard to train ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Best estimates suggest his donation in today’s dollars would be worth around $2 million. The donation helped create the public-private model that is a hallmark of excellence in higher education. Although not public in the contemporary sense, Harvard was as public as any university could be when it was founded. Interestingly, seven of the top 10 universities in the world are private. Is there a general rule that the more private funding a university receives, the better the quality?

Compared to private institutions, philanthropic donations to public universities are a recent trend. Today, philanthropic support for public universities is evident everywhere. The five largest public university endowments are the University of Texas System, Texas A&M University System, University of Michigan, University of California, and University of Virginia. Endowments range from $10 billion to some $42 billion. The top five private universities led by Harvard and, ending with MIT, have endowments ranging from $28 billion to $53 billion. The impact of these 10 universities on the American economy – individual Americans in elected, appointed, business, humanitarian and cultural leadership positions – is incalculable and are examples of the impact of public-private partnerships representing the power of a republican form of government for the benefit of the human condition.

There are many reasons for our national philanthropic phenomenon. One reason is an abiding sense – rooted in our Constitution, our traditions, and our nation’s values ​​– of the pervasive power of moral agency. Even in its obvious imperfections, this lighting agency is underpinned by “faith” in the positive impacts of public-private partnerships.

Taxes are paid by force of law. Gifts are given by the strength of soul, mind and spirit. Public-private partnership requires fuel from individuals and organizations outside of government authorities. Generosity of heart for those who yearn for a greater society produces progress. History proves that the next generation seeking to build a greater society was able to give more than the previous one. Will future generations continue the trend and will the economy support this development? The reality is that philanthropy is both present and future-oriented. Philanthropy is an investment in something bigger than yourself. It is in expectation of excellence and results of resources at work. Giving for religious causes and giving for education are linked and inseparable because the two are driven by the passion and belief of donors, never by fiat.

Commentators argue that American universities are not state-supported but state-assisted. The decrease in grants to public universities is a second motivation for donors. Philanthropy fills a void created by pressures on state budgets. Universities have seminar rooms and libraries to support independent thought; they have marching bands, sports programs, and other extracurricular activities to support a sense of belonging. More and more faithful alumni transformed for a better future are attracting others who aspire to a better way of life through thought, leading to action for a region, a state and a nation.

Although a regional research university is not on the list of the top five endowments, a single gift for a specific purpose has a significant and compelling impact on the people, programs and places of the institution, affecting the region itself. -same. We experience the joy, excitement and benefits of philanthropy at WT.

Watch WT challenge itself to a strong culture of engagement at the regional level.

Walter V. Wendler is president of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.

Todd W. Rasberry, Ph.D. is Vice President for Philanthropy and External Relations, and Executive Director of the WTAMU Foundation

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