Western Kentucky University set an annual record in the 2015-16 fiscal year by raising $23.1 million in private gifts.

Marc Archambault, WKU's vice president for development and alumni relations, said the new mark is a good sign, because it not only indicates that donors value the role WKU plays, but also that endowments are the best way to support the university long term.

The increase in endowments ultimately translates to a better experience for students, he said.

"If you want to touch students from now and every year and you want to do it forever, only an endowment has the power to do that," he told the Daily News on Friday after the announcement.

The $23.1 million total is a 22 percent increase over the previous record of $18.9 million, according to a news release. The $23.1 million total includes gifts from more than 14,000 donors who made more than 29,000 individual gifts.

Within that total are additional highs of $9.7 million given toward the endowment and $7.9 million for student scholarships, according the release.

Archambault said up to 45 percent came from friends of the university. Archambault found that encouraging, because it speaks to how valued WKU has become among non-alumni and people who don't necessarily have direct connections to the university.

Another 24 percent was donated by corporations, Archambault said. Despite the basic responsibility corporations have to raise money for shareholders, Archambault said the support shows businesses value the benefits WKU brings to the local community and employees.

Although alumni only contributed 15 percent of the amount raised, they represented 50 percent of the donors. One reason alumni make up a smaller piece of the contributions could be because many alumni are younger and aren't yet in a position to make larger donations, Archambault said.

Private foundations, such as groups and societies, made up another 11 percent of donations, he said.

Archambault described endowments as "tremendously critical" to the life of the university. WKU President Gary Ransdell agreed.

"At no time in WKU’s history has private support been more important than right now. State support is in decline, tuition has its limits and the federal government is backing away from research support," Ransdell said in the release. "Our alumni and friends are coming through in significant ways to assure high value in a WKU degree. We need that support, and we are exceedingly grateful for it."

When a donor makes an endowment gift, Archambault said, the money is added to the greater endowment pool to maximize investment earnings. The earnings are used to support the endowment long term, he said.

As much as 53 percent of the amount went to academics while 27 percent went to non-academic areas. Another 17 percent went to athletics while 3 percent was unrestricted in how it could be spent.

Ransdell's recent announcement that he'll retire next year could be contributing to the increase. Ransdell will reach 20 years as WKU's president next year.

"I think they’re celebrating his retirement with him ... and of course looking ahead to a new president," Archambault said.

— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.