Colleges across state, nation report steep drop in donations

SMU is the exception to a national trend in which colleges and universities saw donations tumbled a record 11.9 percent last year.

The Dallas Morning News

Donations to colleges and universities tumbled a record 11.9 percent last year, a national survey found – a clear sign that the recession has battered campuses and their supporters.

Several Texas campuses reported their biggest declines in private giving in years. At the University of Texas at Dallas, for instance, donations fell 45 percent from June 2008 to June 2009. Over that same period, gifts dropped 30 percent at the University of North Texas and 16 percent at UT-Austin.

Today's report from the Council for Aid to Education, a national group that tracks private giving to colleges, is an ugly second punch. Last week, another national study reported that endowments – huge sums of money that universities invest – dropped 18.7 percent on average for the year ending June 30, 2009. It's the worst drop in nearly 40 years.

Those record-setting realities and tight state budgets could mean trouble for students, as many universities will soon set tuition rates for next school year. . . 

A notable local exception: Southern Methodist University, where donations jumped 37 percent, from $75.6 million in 2008 to $103.7 million in 2009. SMU's in the middle of an aggressive five-year, $750 million campaign and has raised increasingly larger sums of money in recent years.

SMU has received gifts for everything from "athletics to zoology," said Brad Cheves, vice president of development and external affairs.

And while the average gift amount declined from last year, the total number of donors rose.

"They've chosen to keep us on that very important, high priority list," Cheves said – even in the recession. "They're hearing the case we're making – that for the future of Dallas, North Texas and the nation, we'll continue to need strong leaders that come from universities like SMU."

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