As Yale gears up for a capital campaign, donations to higher education institutions are dropping for the first time in 15 years, a study by the Council for Aid to Education shows.

Though Yale’s endowment and budget have fared better than the average university’s in recent years, Yale was not immune to the trend. University Vice President for Development Charles Pagnam said Yale’s gifts are down again after experiencing a drop last year as well. The news comes as Yale embarks on a planning process for a capital campaign to finance the Committee on Yale College Education’s recently released academic review.

According to the CAE report, private gifts to higher education declined 1.2 percent — to $23.9 billion — in the 2002 fiscal year. Though contributions from corporations and foundations remained steady, giving from alumni — which the the CAE calls the “bedrock” of donations to universities — exhibited a sharp drop, declining by 13.6 percent. Meanwhile, donations from non-alumni individuals rose 3.8 percent.

CAE researcher Ann Kaplan said institutions fared relatively well given the poor shape of the economy.

“You’re always in an economic climate that changes,” Kaplan said. “It’s not unprecedented. That giving didn’t go down more than it did is kind of surprising. Giving tends to decrease or stagnate when the economy is poor, especially when the stock market is doing badly.”

Kaplan said despite these deterrents, now is not necessarily a bad time to begin a capital campaign. Pagnam said campaigns can be useful for universities.

“Campaigns are beneficial for a lot of reasons,” Pagnam said. “It can prove to be a picker-up, as well as fulfilling the needs of your institution.”

Yale administrators said the capital campaign for the academic review is in the early planning stages and Pagnam estimated that the campaign would not begin until 2005.

“It’s too early to say what a campaign would look like or what it’s goal would be,” Yale Provost Susan Hockfield said.

Hockfield said fund raising is not required for many of the projects proposed by the review.

“There are a number of important directions that the report points to that we could get started even without funding,” Hockfield said.

But Hockfield conceded that there are many aspects of the review — including the establishment of a science center, new facilities on Science Hill and establishing a “faculty pool” — that will require new funds.

“Clearly [Yale President Richard] Levin is committed to raising the money,” Hockfield said. “We certainly need new funds in order to meet the goals of the report.”

But Kaplan said regardless of the economy, a university that can make a good case for support has a much better chance of getting a donation. Pagnam also said donations often depend on timing for the donor.

“Giving is a personal timing issue,” Pagnam said. “Some if it is not in our control.”

Pagnam said Yale had two record-breaking years during the economic boom. He said big gifts are important during peaks and that it is often unlikely that a university will receive large gifts many years in a row.

Yale ranked 11th on the CAE list of higher education’s best fund-raisers, raising $256 million in the 2002 fiscal year. Harvard University fell from first place, replaced by the University of Southern California, which raked in $585 million last year.