NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The richest universities keep getting richer, thanks in part to increasingly enormous gifts.
According to data from U.S. News & World Report, the average college endowment was $355 million at the end of fiscal 2013. Some institutions, however, have much, much more.
Harvard University boasts the biggest university endowment fund, valued at $35.9 billion as of June 30, 2014. The University of Texas' endowment is $25.4 billion, Yale University's is $23.9 billion, Stanford University's is $21.4 billion and Princeton University's is $21 billion.
University endowments have performed well recently, too, returning an average of 15.5% in fiscal 2014, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
"Endowments are designed to last forever," said Ken Redd, director of research and policy at NACUBO, a membership organization that represents colleges, universities and higher education service providers.
University endowments -- and budgets -- have also grown thanks to gifts. The economic recovery in the wake of the Great Recession has resulted in the return of what some call mega-philanthropy, and higher education has not been the exception.
"Giving to universities tends to increase when the economy expands," said Ann Kaplan, a director at the Council for Financial Aid to Education, an organization that maintains a database on fundraising outcomes at higher-education institutions.
According to CAE's research, 26% of funds donated to universities in 2014 went to endowments with restrictions (meaning income from these endowment gifts is designated by donors to a particular purpose), while 1.6% went to endowments without restrictions on the use of income.
Fifty percent of gifts went to restricted current operations, and 7% were completely unrestricted; 13.5% of donations came in the form of or were for the purchase of property, buildings and equipment, and 1.8% were newly established deferred gifts, which include charitable gift annuities, pooled income funds and charitable remainder trusts. A small percentage of gifts were made to funds that loan money to students and faculty, called loan funds.
It is the larger universities with already sizable wallets that often receive the most.
"The institutions that spend the most money get the most, because they have the most case to make for support," Kaplan said. "A university, you could think of it as a multipurpose nonprofit institution."
Take a look at 11 of the biggest gifts to universities made over the past decade -- endowments and otherwise.
Sanford and Joan Weill: Weill Cornell Medical College, $250 Million, 2007
Former Citigroup (C) - Get Report Chairman and CEO Sanford Weill and his wife Joan have given more than $600 million to Weill Cornell Medical College and Cornell University over the years. Their biggest single gift came in 2007: a $250 million donation to Weill Cornell. At the time, Cornell said the donation was believed to be the single largest ever made to a medical college.
At the same time, the two also donated $50 million to Cornell to fund its new life sciences initiative.
"This is an historic day for Weill Cornell Medical College, and my wife Joan and I are thrilled to be a part of the celebration," Weill said in a statement.
He retired as chair of the Weill Cornell Board of Overseers in 2014.
Charles B. Johnson: Yale University, $250 Million, 2013
In 2013, Charles B. Johnson retired from his post at the helm of investment management organization Franklin Resources (BEN) - Get Report. That same year, he made a $250 million commitment to Yale University. The gift, Yale's largest ever, was intended to support the expansion of Yale College through the construction of two new residential colleges.
Johnson, who graduated from Yale in 1954, gave nod to its current president, Peter Salovey, and former president, Rick Levin, in a statement.
"Yale is unsurpassed in the quality of its undergraduate education, and I strongly support Rick Levin's and Peter Salovey's shared goal to make that extraordinary experience available to more students than ever before," he said. "I hope my commitment will inspire other alumni, parents, and friends to complete the funding for the construction of thee colleges."
William Dietrich II: Carnegie Melon University, $265 Million, 2011
In September 2011, William Dietrich II announced plans to bequest a $265 million fund to Carnegie Melon University, the largest gift in the school's history. He passed away one month later.
The funds were to be used to support interdisciplinary education and research incentives, such as studies connecting technology and the arts. One of Carnegie Melon's schools was also renamed for Dietrich's late mother and is now the Marianna Brown Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Dietrich also donated $125 million to the University of Pittsburgh, and one of its schools was renamed for his father as the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.
Frank Doble: Tufts and Lesley Universities, $272 Million, 2008
In 2008, Tufts and Lesley universities were announced as the co-beneficiaries of charitable trusts established by the late Frank C. Doble. The two were to share an unrestricted $272 million gift from Doble, who died in 1969.
Doble founded Doble Engineering in 1920, nine years after graduating from Tufts. The company was bought in 2007, leading to the dissolution of the trusts and distribution of their assets.
Tufts said it would put its $136 million portion of the gift towards a new laboratory, and Lesley said it would use its part to invest in academic programs, enhance student scholarships, expand and improve core facilities, and grow its endowment.
David and Suzanne Booth: University of Chicago, $300 Million, 2008
David Booth credits the University of Chicago for kick-starting his multibillion-dollar career as the co-founder of investment firm Dimensional Fund Advisors. He has since returned the favor.
In 2008, Booth and his wife, Suzanne, announced a $300 million gift to the University of Chicago in the form of an up-front payment, income stream and equity interest. It is the largest donation in the university's history and to any business school in the world. The university renamed its business school the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
In a statement, Booth gave nod to one of his professors, Eugene Fama, who he has said inspired the founding of Dimensional. Fama today sits on the firm's board.
"I remember Professor Fama standing up the first day of class and saying, 'This is the most practical course you will ever take,' and it turned out to be true," Booth said. "We built Dimensional Fund Advisors around his set of ideas. I am hoping that others will join me in giving back to this amazing business school."
William Scheide: Princeton University, $300 Million, 2015
William Scheide's 2015 donation to Princeton University didn't come in the form of cash -- instead, it came in books. Scheide, who passed away in November 2014 at age 100, left a collection of approximately 2,500 rare printed books and manuscripts to the school.
With an appraised value of around $300 million, it is the largest gift in Princeton's history.
The Scheide family built their fortune in oil in the late 19th century. Scheide, his father and grandfather were all avid book collectors.
The library has been housed at Princeton's Firestone Library since 1959, when Scheide moved the collection from his hometown of Titusville, Pennsylvania. Its inventory includes the first six printed editions of the Bible, significant autograph music manuscripts of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner, and General Ulysses S. Grant's original letter and telegram copy books from the last weeks of the Civil War.
Michael Bloomberg: Johns Hopkins University, $350 Million, 2013
In 2013, then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg committed $350 million to Johns Hopkins University. The commitment lifted his lifetime giving to the Baltimore-based university to more than $1 billion, rendering him the most generous living donor to any single educational institution in the U.S.
"Johns Hopkins University has been an important part of my life since I first set foot on campus more than five decades ago," said Bloomberg, a Johns Hopkins alumnus, in a statement. "Each dollar I have given has been well-spent improving the institution and, just as importantly, making its education available to students who might otherwise not be able to afford it. Giving is only meaningful if the money will make a difference in people's lives, and I know of no other institution that can make a bigger difference in lives around the world through its groundbreaking research -- especially in the field of public health."
The Morningside Foundation: Harvard University, $350 Million, 2014
The gift made by the Morningside Foundation in 2014 was at the time the largest in Harvard's history. (It has since been eclipsed by one by John Paulson.) The philanthropic arm of private equity and venture capital entity Morningside Group gave $350 million to the Harvard School of Public Health in 2014.
Morningside was founded by the late T.H. Chan in 1986 and is currently run by his family. His son Gerald announced the donation with Harvard.
"On behalf of my mother and my brothers, I want to express how pleased we are that the legacy of our late father can be honored by this gift to HSPH," Chan said in a statement. "He was a generous man who was a staunch supporter of education. He also wanted to support scientific research to alleviate human suffering. He would be very pleased with ... all the good works that this gift will enable."
The school was renamed the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
John Kluge: Columbia University, $400 Million, 2007
In 2007, Columbia University announced that John Kluge had made a $400 million pledge to the school. The gift, designated entirely for financial aid to undergraduate and graduate students, marked the largest donation to an institution dedicated exclusively to student aid, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
"I want to help ensure that Columbia will always be a place where the best and the brightest young people can come to develop their intellect, make something of their own lives and give something back to our communities, our country and the world," said Kluge, a German-born media mogul who graduated from Columbia in 1937, in a statement. "Yet because Columbia's endowment is not nearly as large as some of our celebrated peer institutions, achieving that goal will take support from many other Columbia alumni and friends. So I invite everyone to join me in this commitment to changing the lives of extraordinary students who will go on to be extraordinary leaders in our society. That's one way I can try to make a difference for future generations and hopefully inspire others to join me in that effort."
Kluge, who passed away in 2010, gave more than $500 million to Columbia throughout his lifetime.
John Paulson: Harvard University, $400 Million
Hedge fund manager John Paulson's $400 million to Harvard in 2015 is the Massachusetts university's largest ever. Paulson, a Harvard alumnus, made the donation to support the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which will be renamed in his honor.
"There is nothing more important to improve humanity than education," said Paulson in a statement. "For 379 years, Harvard has had a profound global impact across a multitude of disciplines that benefits all of humanity. Today's gift will continue that legacy by making SEAS a 21st-century engineering leader. It provides a solid endowment for faculty development, research, scholarships, and financial aid."
But no good deed goes unpunished, and Paulson received criticism for making such an enormous gift to an already affluent institution.
Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell slammed the billionaire hedge fund manager on Twitter. "It came down to helping the poor or giving the world's richest university $400 mil it doesn't need. Wise choice John!" he wrote. Others, including T. Boone Pickens, Dan Loeb and Bill Ackman, came to Paulson's defense.
Phil and Penelope Knight: Oregon Health & Science University, $500 Million
In 2013, Nike (NKE) - Get Report co-founder Phil Knight announced in front of an audience of 400 attendees in Portland that he would donate $500 million to the institution's cancer research efforts. The catch: OHSU had to match the donation within two years.
The university announced that it had accomplished its mission in June.
"These last 22 months have shown what is possible when people of vision focus on a single goal," Knight said in a statement. "We are more convinced than ever that cancer will meet its match at OHSU, and we are proud to play a role in this history in the making."
Knight and his wife, Penelope, are longtime supporters of OHSU. In 2012, the couple gave $125 million to establish a new cardiovascular center at the university, and in 2008, they gave $100 million to fund the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.