Some colleges have been able to raise millions in fundraising campaigns, but still saw decreases over 2009 donations.
Ann Kaplan, who directed a donation survey for the Council for Aid to Education, told The Tennessean it is normal to see broad swings in donation totals from one year to the next, usually because of large, one-time donations.
"We're still not out of the woods," Kaplan said in a statement. "Charitable contributions to education are recovering very slowly. Still, historical patterns show that the pace of the recovery in charitable giving usually reflects overall economic recovery. As long as the economy continues to improve, we can expect further improvement in giving, even if incremental at first."
The council tracks charitable contributions to public and private institutions and found that donations topped $28 billion, but that's the same level of giving that schools saw in 2006.
Vanderbilt University raised almost $124 million last year, but that is down from the $160 million the school raised in 2009. That's mainly because 2009 brought several multimillion dollar gifts.
Tennessee State University had an increase in donations from $1.4 million in 2009 to $7.8 million in 2010, due in large part to a $6 million bequest from gospel legend Bobby Jones.
But TSU was also pleased with smaller contributions from young alumni in the form of 2,000 checks last year in the $5 to $50 range.
"I tell (new graduates), I know you're leaving here encumbered by debt, however, I want you to give us $25 a year, every year, until you can give more," said Shereitte Stokes III, TSU's vice president for university relations and development.
The University of Tennessee at Knoxville raised $95.5 million in 2010, which was the first stage of a capital fundraising campaign and a $6 million increase over its fundraising the year before.
Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro saw an increase in donations from $4.1 million in 2009 to $6.4 million in 2010. Last week, the school announced a $1 million gift from former NFL coach and MTSU graduate Ken Shipp. The money has been earmarked for scholarships and facilities improvements.
"A $1 million gift is wonderful for the campus," said Joe Bales, MTSU's vice president for development and university relations.