In spite of hefty alumni contributions, donations to Yale ranked ninth among higher education institutions last year, according to a report released this week by the Council for Aid to Education.

Yale received $265 million in contributions during the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2004, according to the report, which surveyed 971 institutions nationwide. Although the University’s total was more than five times the $45 million received by the University of Connecticut Foundation — the next highest ranked higher education institution in Connecticut — donations to Yale were less than half of the $545 million raised by first place-ranked Harvard University during the same period.

Yale Vice President for Finance and Administration John Pepper said current contributions are a boon to the University, but added that development officials are in the planning stages of a major fundraising campaign for later this year to build on existing funds.

“That’s certainly an area that we’ve examined,” Pepper said. “It’s an area we think we can do better in, and we should.”

While there is room for improvement, Provost Andrew Hamilton said past gifts have had a “transforming effect” on Yale’s campus, citing alumni contributions to Sterling Memorial Library, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Kline Biology Lab and the Class of ’54 Environmental Science Center, as well as Elihu Yale’s original donation to the University’s founding.

“Donations to the University from alumni and friends represent an enormously important part of the funds that we use to underwrite programs and new projects,” Hamilton said. “The development office works hard not only to strengthen the relationship between potential donors and Yale but also to align their interests with important institutional priorities.”

Despite being outranked by a number of its peer institutions, donations to Yale rose by more than $42 million from fiscal year 2003. While the University’s current contribution level has not approached the approximately $358 million Yale raised during fiscal year 2000, approximately 46 percent of last year’s contributions were from alumni, said Ann Kaplan, director of the council’s annual Voluntary Support of Education survey.

Kaplan said Yale’s legacy of alumni contributions is largely a function of dedicated graduates who start giving early and increase their donations over time.

“You don’t end up with these gifts unless you’ve been getting smaller gifts all along,” Kaplan said. “A very high percentage of million-dollar donors start with small gifts a few years after they graduate, and then give big gifts later. You don’t want to ignore people at the bottom of the pyramid, because they turn into millionaires later on.”

Still, Kaplan said alumni contributions remain approximately 7 to 8 percent of the University’s expenditures, and last year’s rise does not necessarily signal an overarching trend. The CAE survey weighed only the benefits from a gift during the past fiscal year, not the total benefits from multi-year endowments.

Total contributions to the 971 colleges and universities rose to $24.4 billion last year, an $800 million jump, according to the report. But this approximately 3.4 percent increase amounted to an increase of only about 0.7 percent when the totals were adjusted for inflation.