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Universities around the country are richer than ever, but the money is not necessarily coming out of alumni's pockets.

Contributions to colleges have reached $29.75 billion in 2007 - the highest ever - but the amount of that contribution that comes from alumni has decreased by 1.5 percent, according to the Voluntary Support of Education survey conducted by the Council for Aid to Education, a non-profit organization that researches policy in higher education.

One particular statistic which has seen decline is alumni participation - the ratio of alumni on record who make donations.

Although overall annual giving has gone up continually, Penn has also seen a decline in this statistic, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations John Zeller said.

But while some may be concerned with the Council's findings, experts don't think higher education institutions have much to worry about.

Zeller said a possible reason for the decline is the "sheer growth of alumni."

In addition, the increasingly sophisticated technology that has facilitated the process of tracking down alumni has increased the number of records in the alumni database, thereby decreasing the ratio of known alumni donors.

Director of VSE Ann Kaplan added that the decline should not be cause for worry because it follows an upsurge in alumni philanthropy in 2006, which saw an increase of 18 percent in alumni giving.

"It's not a trend," she said. "It was just the timing."

The good news though is that the number of donors has risen. This implies an increase in generosity from recent graduates, said Rae Goldsmith, vice president of Marketing and Communications at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, an organization for development professionals in higher education.

This is good news for institutions because they are more likely to create the "habit of philanthropy," particularly important for targeting younger alumni.

Goldsmith said that recent graduates often have debts to pay back and don't have the capacity to donate because they are just starting out in their careers.

But alumni who stay engaged with the campus are more likely to give in the future when they have the financial ability to do so, Goldsmith said.

Moreover, graduates who read about million-dollar donations may think that a donation of a hundred dollars is of little help and importance.

Therefore, the challenge for institutions is letting alumni know that size doesn't matter.

And this is the attitude Penn has adopted toward its more recent graduates.

"It's less about the dollar amount and more about the participation," Zeller said.

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