Giving from corporations, foundations and other organizations is largely responsible for the increase in 2010, while personal giving declined slightly.
Still, the findings represent a marked improvement over 2009, when giving to colleges and universities dropped almost 12%, the steepest decline in the survey's 50-year history.
"Giving has started to return to healthier levels, but it still has a way to go," says Ann Kaplan, director of the survey of 996 colleges and universities.
In 2010, Stanford University raised more from private donors than any other university ($598.89 million), followed by Harvard University ($596.96 million) and Johns Hopkins University ($427.59 million).
Both overall alumni giving and the average amount of alumni donations decreased 0.4% last year. In comparison, there was an 18% drop in giving by alumni and non-alumni donors in 2009.
The survey noted that 10% of alumni donated to their alma maters in 2009, while 9.8% gave in 2010, in a continuation of a decade-long trend of steady declines in alumni participation. "Participation is going down," says Kaplan, "and there hasn't been a year where it's gone up in a least a decade."