Donors gave an all-time record of at least $25.6 billion to American colleges and universities in 2005, an increase of 4.9 percent over the year before, thanks largely to greater generosity from alumni and foundations.

Stanford raised $603.6 million, more than any other university last year, and the second-highest total ever behind Harvard’s $683 million in 2001, according to the annual survey released Thursday by the Council for Aid to Education.

Second was the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose $595.2 million included a $296 million foundation grant awarded to its medical school following the conversion of Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Wisconsin to a for-profit company.

Wisconsin was followed by Harvard ($589.9 million), the University of Pennsylvania ($394.3 million) and Cornell ($353.9 million). The top 10 schools alone accounted for about half the national growth – a figure survey director Ann Kaplan said is fairly typical.

Alumni donations, which account for 28 percent of giving to colleges, increased 6 percent, though the percentage of alumni giving fell to 12.4 percent.

The percentage of alumni donors has fallen steadily since 1990, though Kaplan said it is difficult to say whether fewer alumni are donating to their alma maters, or colleges are just better at tracking down alumni so more are factored into the survey.

Another factor could be that colleges are focusing more on big gifts than on soliciting wide participation.

“These are large research institutions, and a lot of these very big gifts go toward supplying infrastructure for, and paying for things like, medical research,” she said. Already wealthy schools, she said, attract donations “not just because of their prestige but because of their programs.”

“In the short run it’s more efficient to raise a small number of large gifts,” she said.

Giving from foundations, which account for about the same proportion of private giving as alumni, rose 12.9 percent to $7 billion, though corporate donations were flat from a year ago.

CAE surveyed 1,005 institutions, including schools that account for about 85 percent of all voluntary aid raised by colleges and universities.

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