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Public college presidents get big paychecks

Graduating students are seen during the commencement ceremony at Ohio State University on May 5, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio.

College grads might be having a tough time landing jobs these days, but college presidents are doing pretty well for themselves. That's according to a new survey from the Chronicle of Higher Education on executive pay at public colleges.

"Their pay seems to have been more or less impervious to the recent downturns we've seen in the economy," says Jack Stripling, lead reporter on the Chronicle's college president pay report.

The media group says the typical college president pulled in about $480,000 in total compensation in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Nine presidents of the 256 public college leaders surveyed by the Chronicle had total compensation packages that topped $1-million. The highest-earning president was E. Gordon Gee, who ran Ohio State University during the period in question. His total compensation exceeded $6-million. Gee is now president at West Virgina University.

Such big pay packages may raise hackles at a time when schools are charging more for tuition and using cheap, adjunct faculty. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus at the George Washington University, says college faculty likely do need a pay bump. But he says that's a separate issue.

"You don't have to make the case that presidents are overpaid in order to make the case that faculty are underpaid," he says.

Trachtenberg argues that college presidents earn their big paychecks by bringing in lots of money in tough fundraising environments.

But Michael Dannenberg, director of higher education and education finance policy with the Education Trust, says public college presidents should have some relationship to graduation rates.

"We have pretty high compensation levels at many institutions with disturbingly low performance when it comes to student success," he says.

The Chronicle of Higher Education's survey reveals that in many cases, presidents are not the top earners at public colleges. Its analysis finds that of the public college faculty earnig more than $1-million in fiscal year 2012-2013, 70 percent were coaches.

About the author

Annie Baxter covers education.

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