Contributions to US universities grew by nearly 5 per cent last year to more than $25 billion (£14 billion), reversing several years of a decline in giving.
But just ten universities - most of them already among the world's wealthiest - accounted for half this increase, while corporate giving to all schools remained unchanged. The proportion of alumni making gifts declined to 12.4 per cent, down from the 2001 peak of 13.8 per cent, according to a report from the Council for Aid to Education.
This money would not solve universities' money woes, said Ann Kaplan, director of the survey. So-called voluntary support accounts for less than 10 per cent of all universities' expenditures.
"While some types of institutions, notably private liberal-arts institutions, rely much more on voluntary support than institutions overall, results from our survey suggest that voluntary support could never grow sufficiently to become the primary solution to budgeting challenges," Ms Kaplan said.
But she added: "The results indicate that giving to higher education continues to recover from the weak performances of 2002 and 2003."
Support from foundations increased significantly. Contributions from non-alumni individual givers declined slightly. And corporate giving remained unchanged at about 17 per cent of all contributions.
Stanford University alone raised nearly $604 million, followed by the University of Wisconsin, which benefited from a single windfall gift of nearly $300 million, giving it a total of just under $600 million in contributions last year.
Investment income from university endowments grew by 9 per cent, less than half as much as in 2004, but far more than in 2003, when endowment income was just 4.3 per cent.
The decline in the proportion of alumni-giving was attributed in part to a change in the way it was calculated. Better record-keeping has allowed universities to track more of their living alumni, making the percentage who give appear to shrink. But the fall was also blamed on universities' attempts to attract larger gifts.
The Council for Aid to Education survey will be published in May. Copies can be ordered from www.cae.org
1. Stanford University $603.59m
2. University of Wisconsin - Madison $595.22m
3. Harvard University $589.86m
4. University of Pennsylvania $394.25m
5. Cornell University $353.93m
6. Columbia University $341.14m
7. University of Southern California $331.75m
8. Johns Hopkins University $323.10m
9. Indiana University $301.06m
10. University of California, San Francisco $292.93m