How Much is Your College President Costing You?

College president compensation costs nearly $150 per student, on average.

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The sitting president of a private nonprofit college received an average of $475,403, in pay, bonuses, and additional benefits according to a U.S. News analysis of 2008 compensation data amassed by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Twenty of the 362 sitting college presidents received more than $1 million in compensation and two cracked the $2 million threshold. 

With professors and school employees throughout the country coping with pay freezes and even salary reductions, some wonder why executive pay continues to remain at such a high level. "The problem—in terms of the priority message being sent—[is] if there's such a large investment in a single individual, it negates the idea that you have shared governance, which is a basic principle in colleges and universities," says John Curtis, director of research and public policy at the American Association of University Professors. "You have faculty, you have administrators, you have a governing board—they all have shared responsibility for decision making. If there's so much focus on the compensation for one individual, it seems to undermine the sense that there is that kind of shared decision making." 

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Curtis acknowledges that the primary role of a university president has changed from that of an academic leader to someone who plays a heavy role in school fundraising and notes that he has been privy to numerous anecdotes regarding university presidents freezing their own pay or giving back funds. The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities maintains that the stresses involved with the position and the unique skill set required of college presidents forces schools to make lucrative offers to lure and hold onto talented executives. "Searches for these positions at a significant number of independent institutions are highly competitive, and colleges must offer compensation packages that attract qualified leaders," the NAICU said in a statement. 

These high salaries are being doled out in a time when students are bearing the brunt of ever-increasing tuition. Tuition at private, nonprofit four year colleges now averages $27,293— up 4.5 percent from the 2009-10 school year according to the College Board. Executive pay is funded, in part, by students' tuition. At larger schools the price per student of the executive salary is typically less than $100, but at smaller schools the executive salary can cost more than $600 per student. The NAICU maintains that this has no bearing on the rising cost of college. "Presidential salaries make up a very small percentage of overall campus budgets and have virtually no impact on tuition increases." 

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The following table highlights the 15 private nonprofit universities where the president's compensation costs the most on a per student basis, according to compensation data from the Chronicle of Higher Education and U.S. News's enrollment data, sorted from highest cost to lowest. This analysis was conducted on the 351 private nonprofit schools that provided enrollment data in U.S. News's 2010 survey, omitting schools where presidents were retiring or stepping aside since vacating presidents often receive a large monetary infusion when they leave their position. The average cost per student among institutions with a sitting president was $135.11. 

School Name President (2008-2009) Total Compensation* Total Enrollment Cost Per Student
Harvey Mudd College Maria M. Klawe $465,099 757 $614.40
Pitzer College Laura Skandera Trombley $521,018 1,043 $499.54
Hillsdale College Larry P. Arnn $608,615 1,315 $462.83
Southwestern University (Tex.) Jake B. Schrum $565,034 1,301 $434.31
Claremont McKenna College Pamela B. Gann $522,508 1,237 $422.40
Haverford College Stephen G. Emerson $482,162 1,190 $405.18
University of Tulsa Steadman Upham $1,622,229 4,187 $387.44
Colby College William D. Adams $695,143 1,838 $378.21
California Institute of Technology Jean-Lou A. Chameau $799,472 2,130 $375.34
Wofford College Benjamin B. Dunlap $488,539 1,439 $339.50
Amherst College Anthony W. Marx $589,281 1,744 $337.89
Agnes Scott College Elizabeth Kiss $288,524 868 $332.40
Reed College Colin S. Diver $476,632 1,481 $321.83
Dillard University Marvalene Hughes $317,584 1,011 $314.13
Washington and Jefferson College Tori Haring-Smith $470,440 1,514 $310.73

*Compensation data reflects the 2008 calendar year.

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, U.S.News & World Report 

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