The University of Wisconsin has joined the ranks of North American universities with endowments surpassing $1 billion, according to a survey released Monday.

The National Association of College and University Business Officers released the survey, which looked at total endowment and investment returns for 746 institutions in the United States and Canada. Of the universities surveyed, 56 have topped the $1 billion mark in endowments; UW was one of nine colleges added to that list yesterday.

The survey cited UW as having a 13.1 percent increase in endowment since the last fiscal year, with its endowment funds amounting to about $1.13 million.

According to Senior Vice President of the UW Foundation John Feldt, the endowment fund has "definitely been on the rise." He also stated the importance of continued growth to keep up with inflation.

Feldt noted the significance of endowment money to university programs.

"The funds are used to support scholarships, fellowships, research grants and professorships," he said. "Any purpose the donor wishes can be benefited."

Projects are continually announced at UW that are to be funded by endowment money. One recent project is a renovated and expanded Mechanical and Industrial Engineering building with the help of a $1.6 million gift from 3M.

Other notable contributions include a $1 million gift to the UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication from James E. Burgess, former publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal; and a donation of more than $7 million to UW Law School from Frederick W. Miller, former president and publisher of the Capital Times, which was the largest single endowment ever given to the law school.

Joining UW as new additions to the billion-dollar list are the University of Nebraska and Foundation, University of Delaware, University of Cincinnati, Amherst College, Smith College, Southern Methodist University, University of Toronto and Baylor College of Medicine.

Robb Crouch, director of communications at the University of Nebraska Foundation, echoed sentiments of the UW Foundation, saying endowment funds there are responsible for many university projects. He pointed to a 2000 campaign, which allowed for the construction or renovation of 18 buildings on campus, as an example of the funds being put to good use.

Other colleges on the new member list are equally grateful for their donations, especially now.

"It's a good thing," said Greg Hand, University of Cincinnati associate vice president of public relations, of the school's endowment increases. "Public support has been declining here and across the country."

With state funding on the decline, universities are looking to diversify their sources of income, Hand said. Over the past two years in Ohio, in fact, students have provided more revenue than the state.

"Today students provide 25 percent and the state provides 18 percent [of revenue]," Hand said. "Income from the endowment makes up the difference … along with money from research, sales and service."

Hand also noted donations have been extremely beneficial in supporting the medical and classics programs at the university, which he said have very strong reputations.

Topping the list with the wealthiest endowment is Harvard University with $25.5 billion, followed by Yale University and Stanford University.