Presidential salaries at public institutions increasing
Texas leads the nation with several leaders earning more than $700,000
The state of Texas remains at the top of the list in terms of the amount of compensation offered to the leaders of its’ public colleges and universities, with numerous heads of institutions earning upwards of $700,000 a year, according to data released by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The average total compensation for public college presidents throughout the country was $521,000, with eight presidents making over $1 million. The data indicated a 5% boost in executive compensation over last year. The rise in salaries of public college presidents is not unexpected when viewed in comparison to prior years; salaries of public university presidents had jumped by 4.3% the year before, according to the Boston Globe.
The New York Times reported in 2010 that college executive and presidents’ salaries had been trending upwards significantly for the prior decade, with Matthew Goldstein, the City University of New York’s chancellor at the time, receiving criticism for having doubled his salary during his tenure, outpacing raises in faculty salaries during that time period.
University of Texas System Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster said the system is simply trying to remain competitive in an industry with rapidly rising executive costs, and added the salary for Chancellor William H. McRaven was well justified considering the value he brought to the system.
"It has long been the goal and practice of the University of Texas System to recruit and retain truly exceptional higher education leaders and faculty, including chancellors and presidents,” Foster said in a statement. “To assure that we continue to provide the best leaders for our students, faculty and staff, we must fully analyze and understand the competitive marketplace and we must offer competitive compensation.”
Though salaries for presidents and executives at public colleges and universities have risen, the highest public salaries do not nearly match the highest salaries for presidents at private institutions, according to additional data reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education that examined higher education presidential compensation data from previous years, with the most recent data from 2015-2016.
Like presidents at public colleges and universities, the average compensation for heads of private institutions has continued to trend upward. The Chronicle data (which extends until 2014) found that the highest-paid executive at a private institution was Wilmington University’s Jack P. Varsalona, with $5,449,405. In the 2013-2014 school year, the highest public college president’s total compensation stood at $1,494,603.
The high salaries of college presidents can often be a controversial subject, especially in an industry-wide atmosphere of declining enrollment, rising tuition rates and declining revenue streams making it more difficult to hire staff and fund maintenance, necessary construction and innovative initiatives. Many school presidents have also garnered controversy after misusing funds; for example, two presidents in California’s state system were accused of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on PR firms for consultation in response to crises that nevertheless ended their tenure, in addition to numerous other controversies, such as the misuse of private planes.
For the presidents of public colleges and universities, the transparency and reaction to the misuse of funds can become a particularly fraught conversation, as the institutions are taxpayer-funded entities. Others have noted that such salaries are not the norm across colleges, such as American Council on Education President Mary Corbrett Broad in submitted testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Hearing on Endowments.
In discussing consideration on legislation to mandate colleges and universities spend more of their endowments on student aid, she called the notion that presidents’ salaries and compensation are a primary contributor to high tuition rates a “misconception.”
“It is important to remember that these are the CEOs of institutions with thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of staff, faculty and students, and ultimate responsibility for every aspect of campus life 24/7,” she said in her testimony. “It also is worth noting that college presidents are more likely to be paid less than $69,000 a year than they are to make $1 million or more.”
Still, critics have suggested a correlation between the increase in institutions hiring college presidents from outside of academia; a ThinkProgress article from 2016 cited ACA data indicating 20% of their college presidents came from outside of academia in 2012, compared to 13% from six years earlier. College presidential salaries, the article noted, continued to rise during that period of time.
- Chronicle of Higher Education Public College Executive Compensation