Are College Presidents Compensation Packages Becoming More Like Corporate CEO’s?

Certainly, when it comes to annual salaries and other benefits, college presidents are becoming more like corporate CEO’s and many students, parents, professors, and education support professionals (ESPs) believe it is a move in the wrong direction. Even state legislators question how to best manage state aid to public colleges in a fiscally challenged environment when college presidents make huge salaries.

Trying to understand a college president’s total compensation is not easy. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) executive compensation packages for private and public college presidents can include base pay, bonus pay (including incentives), nontaxable benefits (health and medical benefits, life insurance, etc.), deferred compensation paid out, and severance pay. Deferred compensation set aside and retirement pay are not reported as part of total compensation but this is money that will eventually be received. Often there are other perks such as car and housing allowances, sports tickets, and more.   

The CHE data shows in 2016 over five dozen private college and about one dozen public college presidents made more than $1 million a year with some private college leaders making considerably more than $1 million.  According to an article published in the NEA 2016 Almanac of Higher Education, the average public college president’s base pay rose 7% to about $428,000 which equated to 50 times the median student tuition.  

But what is really staggering is the contrast between the presidents’ salaries, teaching professionals, and other university employees. “…presidents make roughly four times the salary of full-time professors, ten times that of office administrative staff, 20 times more than adjunct professors, and 50 times median student tuition.” From 2013 to 2014, salaries for Education Support Professionals (ESPs) “declined or showed no significant increase”.  ESP categories are divided into 11 occupational categories and include such jobs as business and financial operations; computer, engineering, and science; teaching and instructional support; office and administrative support; and more.

It is even more astounding to learn that during the almost twenty years from 1995 to 2014, the University of Michigan’s president’s salary, correcting for inflation, rose over 151 percent! Contrast that with the fact that the total inflation rate for the 19 years between 1995 and 2014 was 55%. I shudder to think what the data looks like now in 2019.

College presidents have a difficult and challenging job.  No one questions that but it is time to rethink the college president’s compensation packages!

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