School spokesman Mark Meighen noted that Westminster's graduation rate of 86 percent is 13 points higher than the predicted graduation rate U.S. News uses in its college rankings. In addition, he said the 2007-08 package was "artificially inflated because it included deferred compensation and retirement benefits" for Williamson, who has since retired. "Westminster College presidents are paid at a level comparable to our peer colleges," Meighen said.
In fact, many colleges with unusually high per-student presidential costs tended to be comparatively small. Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster, Pa., paid $1.07 million to John A. Fry last year. That cost each of the school's approximately 2,100 students about $500 apiece. Harvey Mudd, one of the Claremont colleges in Southern California, paid its president, Maria Klawe, about $409,000. Because her school has fewer than 800 students, that averaged out to more than $550 per student.
There were, however, many bargain presidents, too. More than two dozen presidents of Catholic-affiliated colleges, such as the Rev. Michael McFarland at Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., received no salary whatsoever. And some of the most prestigious schools also had some of the lower per-student presidential costs. Stanford's $732,000 salary for John L. Hennessy averages out to slightly more than $40 for the university's approximately 18,000 students. Harvard and Cornell, two other large and highly ranked universities, also had similarly low per-student costs. And many smaller elite colleges, including the rest of the Ivies, had presidential pay packages that were below the national per-student average.
Corrected on 11/03/09: A previous version of this article incorrectly said the net cost students pay for tuition, room and board, and fees dropped according to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. That drop in price referred to tuition only.