10 Colleges Coming out of the Recession Even Stronger Than Before

The recession dealt many colleges the unfortunate double-whammy of not only losing much of their state funding, but also private donations. Giving by those much-maligned people in the One Percent, for example, dropped off by $30 billion, a good deal of which would no doubt have gone to higher education. But while some colleges are still mired in department cuts and mandatory furloughs, others have managed to come through the economic slump smelling like a rose. These 10 schools have given it the old college try and come out even healthier than they were before.

  1. University of Nebraska

    The recession doesn’t seem to have slowed the Huskers down one bit from reaching their goal of raising $1.2 billion through the school’s “Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities.” In fact, giving to the university increased steadily during the economic downturn, with the odd $25 million and $50 million one-off gifts here and there. The campaign was launched in 2005 and in April 2012, with 30 months to go, they hit the target. The money has already funded $189 million in direct student aid, $416 in construction of a new cancer center and a stadium expansion, and $40 million for research.

  2. University of Virginia

    Students on this gorgeous campus have something else to brag about: they are the most richly endowed students per capita in the United States. Although UVA’s endowment took staggering hits in 2008 and 2009, with returns at -21%, they staged a huge recovery and are now at over $5.4 billion, topping its peak before the recession by several billion bucks. In 2011 they grew more than any school of comparative size, with a 28.4% spike in funds. As a result, Forbes recently declared them the fastest-growing university endowment in the country. Even the “failure” to reach a $3 billion fundraising goal doesn’t change the fact that UVA is sitting pretty.

  3. University of Texas

    As the recession began to show signs of easing in 2010, the UT system was already busy raking in some of the biggest endowment dollars in the country. From 2010 to 2011, the funds increased a whopping 22%. Although the rate slowed to 6% the next year, that soundly trumped the rate of inflation, which many colleges failed to pull off. Meanwhile, the school continued to dominate the recession-proof college sports industry, with their teams bringing in $150 million in 2010-2011. In 2009-2010, the football team singlehandedly brought in nearly $69 million of profit. As for student figures, the main campus in Austin is still a top choice for many high school grads — the school set a record for freshman attendance in Fall 2012.

  4. University of Iowa

    Only in 2005, in the last year of a billion-dollar campaign push, has Iowa had a better fundraising year than it had in 2011. Not only was the dollar figure high, but in 2011 they also broke the record for most contributors ever, with 74,591 people. The Hawkeyes‘ endowment foundation experienced a healthy 6.3% growth from 2008-2011, with a 12.2% increase from 2010-2011. The gifts will pay for 70 new scholarships, 12 new teaching positions, and 94 new research and program funds. And if diversity makes a school stronger, UI’s got that covered too — 2012’s student body is the biggest and most diverse in its history.

  5. Golden Gate University

    Only three schools in the country saw bigger percentage increases in endowment funding from 2008 to 2011 than GGU. Its jump from $31.5 million to $59.8 million was an 82.1% increase (adjusted for inflation). Despite its home in economically-challenged California, the university has not cut retirement contributions, staff, or programs. They’ve actually kicked off a new marketing campaign called “Shine” to ensure their enrollment continues to grow at the 4% clip it has maintained throughout the recession. GGU capitalized on recession prices for radio and TV ad spots that will be used to promote the school.

  6. University of California, Davis

    Just over a year ago, news was emerging from Davis that students had been pepper sprayed while protesting fee increases. This fall, the school agreed to pay out almost $1 million to the affected students, which it was easily able to cover after the fundraising it’s been doing of late. While the tuition concerns are not solved yet, UC Davis is looking strong these days. Of the $1.56 billion raised in the UC system from 2010-2011, Davis accounted for $132.4 million. Enrollment figures for students from California, around the nation, and overseas all hit record levels in Fall 2012. An new art museum is being planned, while an expansion to the cancer center just opened.

  7. Utah Valley University

    As far as enrollment is concerned, the recession was good to all schools in Utah, but UVU was especially blessed. The school took over the title of largest state school from the University of Utah by putting up increases like 7.96% from 2010 to 2011. And although policy changes dropped them from the top spot, administrators at Utah Valley say the changes have positioned the school to be stronger than ever. A $3 million grant from the Dept. of Labor will help the school strengthen its cybersecurity curriculum, a much-needed skill for tech companies in the state, and a new $50 million expansion on the science building has provided plenty of space for experimenting and dissecting.

  8. Cornell University

    Folks at this Ivy Leaguer took issue with a recent report by consulting titan Bain & Company that Cornell is “financially unstable” (where’s Arthur Andersen when you need it, huh?) While they agreed, like most colleges, Cornell has faced challenges, but they felt the recession had made them stronger than ever. The school’s CFO pointed to facts like Cornell’s closing of a $122 million deficit a year ahead of schedule and that they have slowly weaned themselves off reliance on tuition since 2009. The economic lessons they learned, she said, had prepared them for the future; a future that includes big plans, like a $2 billion applied sciences campus in the Big Apple.

  9. Washington and Lee University

    Unlike nearby Virginia, Washington and Lee did not suffer too badly in 2008 and 2009, losing only 12.6% of its endowment. That small dip helped the school to come out ahead for the period of 2008-2011, with its 6.5% growth making it the second-fastest growing among schools with billion-dollar endowments, beating out big names like Harvard and Yale. They’ve followed that up with over 20% growth, bringing the $1.2 billion total to even higher than it was pre-recession. And with a recently launched capital campaign that’s already showing strong support, the future is bright.

  10. Community colleges

    It was fairly common knowledge that in an economic downturn, community colleges would see more interest from students, and that’s exactly what happened. What we might not have expected was for many of those to continue to enjoy success after an uptick, but that too has come to pass. In North Carolina, A-B Tech and Mars Hill saw enrollment increases of 3.7% and 7% respectively (with Mars Hill’s up 20% from 2010). Pennsylvania’s Pitt Community College is enjoying an 8.3% bump this semester. Connecticut’s Gateway Community College just flung wide the doors on a new $198 million campus in New Haven. It may be the recovery has yet to hit college-age people, or simply that community colleges’ flexible schedules and convenient locations continue to hold appeal for students.

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