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Kai Ryssdal: After a dismal couple of years for college fundraising, this year is shaping up to be a pretty good one. A number of big gifts have made the headlines. Billionaire investor George Soros pledged $60 million for Bard College this week. The University of Pennsylvania got a couple hundred million for its medical school last month.

From the Marketplace Education Desk at WYPR in Baltimore, Amy Scott reports.

Amy Scott: You've heard of pent-up consumer demand, how people rush out to buy stuff when the economy improves? Something like that may be going on in philanthropy.

Rae Goldsmith is with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. She says donors would have made most of these really large gifts anyway, but held back until the market improved.

Rae Goldsmith: The fact that we're seeing so many of those major gifts now is a good signal that donors have much more confidence in their own financial stability, which means they've got much more confidence in the stability of the economy.

Overall, Goldsmith's group expects college donations to increase more than 5.5 percent this year. That's compared to just 0.5 percent increase last year, and a 12 percent decline the year before that.

Michael Nilsen is with the Association of Fundraising Professionals. He's seeing a thaw in all kinds of charitable giving.

Michael Nilsen: But 2008 and 2009 were so awful, frankly, for charitable fundraising, even with these increases there's still a ways to go to get back to where we were.

Still, if universities raise more money this year, maybe they won't have to raise tuition quite as much? Rae Goldsmith says with endowments still recovering, and public funding evaporating -- don't count on it.

I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

Follow Amy Scott at @amyreports