- The salaries of many college chief executives are continuing to climb, according to annual executive compensation data from The Chronicle of Higher Education looking at public and private college leader salaries for the 2016-17 academic year and 2016 calendar year, respectively.
- The average salary for the top 20 public university leaders rose nearly 28% year-over-year to $1.25 million for the 2016-17 academic year, according to Education Dive's analysis of the data. James Ramsey, who resigned as president of the University of Louisville in July 2016, took home the most compensation at $4.29 million, more than double that of now-former Auburn University President Jay Gogue, who came in at No. 2 with $1.83 million.
- The top three private university chief executive salaries increased from the 2015 to 2016 fiscal years, with former Baylor University president Kenneth Starr bringing in just short of $5 million, Columbia University's Lee Bollinger making $3.93 million and the University of Pennsylvania's Amy Gutmann making $3.21 million. But the average for the top 20 highest private college president salaries decreased 4% for the period to $2.22 million, according to Education Dive's analysis.
At the top of the pack, it continues to pay more to be a public university president. The 2016-17 academic year saw four more public college presidents making $1 million-plus than the year prior, for a total of 12 leaders to do so. That follows a trend of steady compensation growth in recent years.
According to Chronicle data, compensation for the 20 highest paid public university leaders for the 2015-16 academic year climbed nearly 12% year-over-year and by 8% in the period before that.
Texas continued to lead state colleges in executive pay in 2016-17, with three presidents making more than $1 million and four among the 15 most highly paid. In 2017, then-University of Texas System Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster told Education Dive the state aimed to recruit and retain "exceptional" higher ed leaders and to do so it "must offer competitive compensation."
Florida also had three public college presidents earning more than $1 million during the 2016-17 academic year.
It warrants noting that base pay for university chiefs across institutions, private and public, was frequently only a fraction of total compensation. Bonuses, non-taxable pay and other forms of compensation often contributed the lion's share of salaries. For example, the base pay for the U of Louisville's Ramsey was just shy of $56,000, with the rest of his $4 million-plus package consisting of other forms of compensation.
As has long been the case, the salaries of public higher ed leaders have lagged behind those of their private institution counterparts. Education Dive found from the Chronicle's data that the average pay for the top 20 private leaders ran about $967,000 higher than for public college chiefs, whose salaries are under greater public scrutiny and subject to state oversight.
Even with that disparity, salaries of some public college leaders could drop further as states tighten their higher ed budgets. In searching for a new president to head the University of Minnesota, for example, officials floated the idea of cutting the salary for the incoming leader by as much as half of what the outgoing head makes, according to the Star Tribune.
High executive salaries can be controversial in light of declining enrollment, rising tuition and declining revenue (all of which U of Minnesota has grappled with). Some presidents have also come under fire for misusing funds in recent years. For example, two presidents in the Univeristy of California System were accused of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on PR firms for consultation in response to crises that nevertheless ended their tenure.
Private university leaders are not immune from scandal, of course. The highest-paid university president last year, Baylor's Kenneth Starr, received $4.52 million from the university as he was forced out of his position over his handling of sexual assault complaints against some of the university's football players.