Philanthropy is no easy business.
Philanthropy is no easy business. - 
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Charitable giving to U.S. colleges and universities hit a record high in 2013. A report out on Wednesday from the nonprofit Council for Aid to Education says donors gave $33.8 billion to higher education, the highest level since the survey began in 1957.

College giving has risen nine percent since 2012, with much of the growth driven by gifts to endowments, says Ann Kaplan, director of the annual survey.

“This type of gift is strongly affected by the stock market, as such gifts tend to be made either in the form of stock or from a platform of wealth that itself rises and falls with the value of stocks,” says Kaplan. “And all the major stock indexes increased by more than 15 percent over the course of the fiscal year we studied.”

While most schools reported at least some increase in giving, the biggest winners were the big names: Stanford, Harvard, the University of Southern California, Columbia. All raised several hundred million dollars last year.

Support for higher education by the very rich “has come roaring back,” according to a recent report from consulting firm Marts & Lundy. “Mega-gifts” of $50 million or more made a mega comeback in 2013, says chairman John Cash. And 2014 is off to a strong start, he says.

Gifts mostly go to top-tier private research institutions, Cash says. Mid-tier and public universities, he says, “have to struggle to achieve the kind of generosity from private philanthropists that the great established private research institutions receive on a regular basis.”

Cash says large donors want to change the world, and big research universities with medical schools and innovative science programs, can promise to do that.

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Follow Amy Scott at @amyreports