Feb 16, 2015

Where college presidents earn the most money

The highest paid college president in the country heads RPI.

In honor of the Presidents Day holiday, it seems appropriate to take a look at the salaries of the top earners among college presidents.

And although it turns out that some college coaches’ salaries surpass those found in the front office, the presidential compensation provided by a handful of seemingly cash-strapped colleges and university systems topped $1 million, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In fact, 36 presidents of private colleges earned more than a million in total compensation during 2012 (the most recent data available), and nine presidents of public universities crossed the million-dollar mark during FY 2013.

For presidents of private colleges, the median pay rose by 2.5 percent over the previous year, with “the typical leader making close to $400,000.”  The Chronicle also found that, on average, a private-college president’s salary accounted for about 0.5 percent of his or her institution’s overall budget in 2012.

Interestingly, the president with the greatest percentage of institutional budget dedicated to presidential pay was John Klein, of Randolph College, who received $29,410 for every million in expenditures or just over 2.9 percent of the budget.

The lowest paid president relative to budget in 20112 was Drew Gilpin Faust, of Harvard University, who as the 47th highest paid overall earned $225 for every $1 million in expenditures.

On the public side, the median compensation for college presidents came to $478,896 for 2012-13, which amounted to an increase of five percent over the previous year.  

But some of the highest paid public-college presidents no longer work for their institutions and benefited from extremely generous “departure packages,” deferred compensation, and retirement plans.

At Ohio State, the university’s board presented E. Gordon Gee, the nation’s highest-paid public college president, with a $1.5 million “release payment” in exchange for a pledge not to sue the university.  In addition, nearly 40 percent of Mr. Gee’s total earnings came in the form of a deferred-compensation payment.

After cleaning up in Columbus, Mr. Gee moved on to West Virginia University, where he is expected to earn a base salary of $775,000.

In response to an inquiry from The Chronicle about his status as the highest earner among public college presidents, Mr. Gee quipped, “Someone has to be 1.  Why not me?”

But at least one other college president believes the large salaries of college presidents are “increasingly hard to justify.”  William W. Destler, president of the Rochester Institute of Technology, earned $875,046 in 2012, put 30 percent of his pay toward scholarships at the university.

For the record, here are the 15 highest-paid private college presidents in 2012, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Shirley Ann Jackson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute:  $7,143,312
John L. Lahey, Quinnipiac University:  $3,759,067
Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia University:   $3,389,917
Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania:  $2,473,952
Charles R. Middleton, Roosevelt University:  $1,762,956
Susan Hockfield, MIT:  $1,679,097 (partial year compensation)
David W. Leebron, Rice University:  $1,522,502
John E. Sexton, New York University:  $1,404,484
Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Rockefeller University:  $1,381,341
Richard C. Levin, Yale University:  1,375,365
Robert J. Zimmer, University of Chicago:  $1,369,856
Nido Qubein, High Point University:  $1,355,777
Steadman Upham, University of Tulsa:  $1,355,061 (partial year compensation)
C.L. Max Nikias, University of Southern California:  $1,316,524
John J. DeGioia, Georgetown University:  $1,292,786

And the 15 highest-paid public college presidents in 2012-13:

E. Gordon Gee, Ohio State University:  $6,057,615
R. Bowen Loftin, Texas A&M University at College Station:  $1,636,274
Hamid Shirvani, North Dakota University System:  $1,311,095
Michael F. Adams, University of Georgia:  $1,295,954
Renu Khator, University of Houston (main campus):  $1,266,000
Sally K. Mason, University of Iowa:  $1,139,705
Michael A. McRobbie, Indiana University at Bloomington:  $1,111,924
V. Gordon Moulton, University of South Alabama:  $1,072,121
Mary Sue Coleman, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor:  $1,037,357
Mark G. Yudof, University of California system:  $857,085
Ray L. Watts, University of Alabama at Birmingham:  $853,464
Charles W. Steger, Virginia Tech:  $836,886
Francisco G. Cigarroa, University of Texas system:  $815,833
John C. Hitt, University of Central Florida:  $795,819
David E. Daniel, University of Texas at Dallas:  $793,265

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