University Presidents’ Pay (Like Student Debt) Is Growing


At the same time as reports of students graduating with five to six figures of debt from loans have become commonplace, the presidents of public institutions of higher learning have seen their salaries increase according to statistics released by the Chronicle of Higher Education. On average, the salary for 199 college presidents surveyed was $421,395, an increase of 2.9 % from 2009-10. Their median base pay, $383,800, also increased, by 1.3%.

Three college presidents — that is, chief executives — received more than $1 million in total compensation for 2010-2011. E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, made $1,992,221; Michael D. McKinney, the former president of the Texas A & M University System, made $1,966,347; Graham B. Spanier, the former president of Pennsylvania State University who resigned after the sexual abuse scandal involving football coach Jerry Sandusky, made $1,068,763.

Most public university presidents earn two to four times as much pay as full professors, the Chronicle of Higher Education also notes. Some presidents earn as much as six times what full professors make.

With college students protesting increases in tuition that have, in some cases, made the cost of college tuition at public institutions creep closer to that of private ones, the rise in executive pay has indeed become a “volatile” issue, as the New York Times puts it. In an analysis, the Chronicle of Higher Education describes how college president compensation has become a “potent political target” particularly in the California State University system:

Criticism of presidential pay on Cal Stateís 23 campuses has increased in tandem with crippling budget cuts and rising tuition, and the stateís fiscal situation looks ever more bleak. Californiaís projected budget gap has grown to $15.7-billion, up from a January estimate of $9.2-billion.

The outcry over presidential pay at Cal State reached a crescendo last July, when Elliot Hirshman, former provost of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, was named president of San Diego State University and given a $400,000 salary, which was 33 percent higher than that of his predecessor.

Governor Jerry Brown, now facing what may be a budget gap of more than $17 billion that portends steep cuts to the state’s higher education system, has been among those citing Hirshman’s pay as a “symbol of excess at a time of austerity.”

In January, criticism from students and lawmakers led to the Cal State’s board adopting a policy that the pay of incoming presidents be capped at 10 percent more than their predecessorís compensation. Some in the higher education business (because higher education is a business, lofty pronouncements about service and making public education accessible to all aside), argue that setting such limits on the salaries of state university presidents is not “going to work in a capitalist society,” as Raymond D. Cotton, a lawyer in Washington who specializes in presidential contracts, says to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Cotton and others argue that setting limits on presidential pay would mean that public universities would no longer be able to hire the best-qualified candidates to fill executive positions.

Jack Stripling, the Chronicle of Higher Education reporter about university leaders, captures the dilemma facing public university systems. As he says to the New York Times:

I donít think thereís any question that on a lot of campuses facing budget cuts, there is a sense that the president is insulated from the experience. … Even though Cal State isnít in the top tier of pay, thereís a lot of talk about what it means for the president to make six figures when the faculty hasnít had raises in years, tuition is increasing and people are losing their jobs.

Indeed: What is missing in defenses of higher executive pay at public universities is a real acknowledgement of the costs that other parts of the unviersity community, especially faculty and especially students have found themselves facing.

“Nobody went into public higher education, at least not me, to get rich,” Eric W. Kaler, president of the University of Minnesota, is quoted as saying at the end of the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s analysis of presidential pay. True: But when you consider that Kaler is making $642,500 in salary and retirement contributions this year (a sum that is, admittedly, less than what his predecessor, Robert H. Bruininks, earned in 2010-11), it is quite apparent that those who inhabit certain corridors of higher education are “benefiting” more than others.


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ERIKA S1 years ago


Debbie L.
Debbie Lim5 years ago

Wow, how corrupt and unfair is this system.

Carl Oerke
Carl O5 years ago

Like corporate execs they are entitled to incresed comensation when their efforts lead to results. Sadly many college graduates are leaving school saddled with very large school debts in a very difficult environment where it will be very difficult to be hired without experience against so much competition. Maybe their salary increases would be better spent invested in job placement resources at the colleges to serve their students.

Susan T.
Susan T5 years ago

@ Guillermo - "First of all, no matter what fantasies anyone may have about for each what they need, this is capitalism and the hierarchy of pay is based on demand and supply..." You are assuming that demand & supply are operating as true free market forces, not manipulated or controlled by a few powerful individuals or corporations. Unfortunately much IS controlled by manipulation. Why have gas prices gone up over the last 2 years when consumption has gone down & production has increased? Why do Wall St execs who crashed the economy & lost BILLIONS of $ not only keep their jobs but continue to make millions in bonuses? (i.e. - JP Morgan Chase recently - oops we lost $3 billion, yet no one's on the chopping block. If they crash the tax payers will bail them out so there's no downside, & they make big $ if they win. Nice game if you can get invited to the table).

It's a rigged system. It's playing cards w/a cheater who has stacked the deck.

Colleges are supposed to 1) provide an education & 2) prepare students for the workforce.

It's the faculty who are really setting the standards, both in terms of their professional accomplishments & their quality of teaching, so why shouldn't THEY be the ones for whom the goal is a higher pay grade to attract the "brightest and the best"? Yet faculty increasingly get pay freezes & part time positions as "adjunct" professors.

Patty Boytos
Patty B5 years ago

Maybe parents should think of sending their children overseas to attend college . Would be a lot cheaper and add to life experience as well .

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

What ever happen to the lofty goals of I want to be part of education because I can help improve minda, the students' furture, our communities future, our states future and our countries future and because I can help make the world a better place? The President of the United States makes $400K/a year, what makes these folks think they should make as much or more?

There should be a pay freeze on all professors, Deans, Presidents and other executives salaries of college and Universities, all professors should be teaching their classes NOT a student teacher and all of these facilities should cut as much cost as they can from non-teaching functions without damaging the infrastructure and other essentials. Let them get off their lofty behinds and start putting the students first. All this should be done along with a 10% or more cut in tuition.

Ron B.
Ron B5 years ago

Tell me about it! Harvey Mudd College got a big chunk of change from us. But then, there are no student teachers there, just college professors. And who knows what the Dean is making?

Dave C.
David C5 years ago

if debt is an issue in any business shouldn't there be a pay freeze especially in management???? we had pay freeze for all employees multiple years and very few complained since it was fair and equitable across the board....

Ernest R.
Ernest R5 years ago

@ Liz E.. “Society's loss because of greed.” It’s not that simple. Many, many citizens would insist that their tax money should NOT go to educate other people’s children. Based on “intelligence, not wealth” is of course a socialist idea. {except for Switzerland} and Murikans don’t want no socialism. {except for corporations}.

Ernest R.
Ernest R5 years ago

@ Liz E.. “Society's loss because of greed.” It’s not that simple. Many, many citizens would insist that their tax money should NOT go to educate other people’s children. Based on “intelligence, not wealth” is of course a socialist idea. {except for Switzerland} and Murikans don’t want no socialism. {except for corporations}.