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Public University Presidents Rake in Cash as Tuition Spikes


Tuition costs at private universities may be plateauing, but not at public schools. Government spending on public colleges has been on the budget chopping block, so many public schools have been raising tuition to make up for the lost funds.

While students at these schools are feeling the pinch, however, presidents are doing extremely well for themselves. A new report from the Chronicle of Higher Education looks at salary and compensation packages for more than 200 public university presidents, and found that many are making well more than half a million dollars per year. In a particularly egregious case, former Penn State President Graham B. Spanier topped $2 million last year, making him the highest-paid executive of a public institution (at the very moment he was forced to step down in disgrace for his handling of the Jerry Sandusky scandal). As the New York Times reports:

[Ohio State University President E. Gordon] Gee, who in 2007 became the first public university president to earn more than $1 million, had a base salary last year of $830,439, the highest among the 212 chief executives included in the Chronicle report. He is known for prodigious fund-raising energy, which has brought the university more than $1.6 billion since he took the post, and for the lavish lifestyle his job supports, including a rent-free mansion with an elevator, a pool and a tennis court and flights on private jets.

Mr. Stripling said there had been a sea change in the last few years, with the rich getting richer and some pay packages exceeding not just $1 million, but $2 million. Deferred compensation agreements can increase pay drastically, as was the case with Mr. Gogue, whose pay went from $720,000 to $2.5 million in a single year when he completed a five-year contract.

America’s public universities system should be a place for students looking to get a quality education for less money, not a place where administrators make bank while students get gouged on prices.

Public schools ought to be looking for ways to tighten their belts. Top executive salaries would be a good place to start.

[College quad image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • wigwag

    It is easy to fall into the trap of being outraged at the compensation packages of Presidents of public universities; it’s also wrong-headed. With state budget cuts hitting these institutions hard, they are more dependant than ever on fundraising dollars. The simple reality is that it is not possible to find university Presidents capable of cultivating, soliciting and stewarding donors who make six and seven figure gifts for a mere few hundred thousand dollars a year. Many people find the reality troubling, but it is, nonetheless, the reality. There are a very limited number of people with the experiencing of generating this type of donation and the track record of success which proves that they’re good at it. Public universities are competing with private universities and many elite cultural institutions for people who have these skills.
    But for the willingness of of state universities to pay these salaries, the budget costs imposed by state legislatures would hit these schools even harder than they already do.
    What you pay a good fundraising professional (which is what university presidents are) almost doesn’t matter. If they are good at their jobs, they raise 100 times more in fundraising dollars than they receive in compensation. If they are not good at their jobs, the loss is not measured by their seemingly large salary, but instead by the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars that they should have raised but didn’t.
    Populist rage is for dopes.

    • Scott Locklin

      How do we know it is the reality without trying it? I keep hearing this argument apropos University administrators (whose head count now dwarfs that of faculty) and CEO types. I have yet to see any convincing argument, let alone proof that it is actually the case. Universities wouldn’t need million dollar donations if they didn’t have such an enormous administrator head count. I, personally, do not see any reason to give money to universities with such administrator head counts.

      When I ask where my money would go, I get a lot of lousy answers about the new multiculturalism professor in the classics department, or the new twitter gizmo so dingbats don’t have to raise their hand to ask questions.

      • wigwag

        I agree entirely; the administrative bloat at all universities, public and private has grown at an alarming rate. Some estimates say that the average university has four times the number of bureaucrats as it had thirty years ago; it’s obscene. Add to this that by and large faculty members are lazy (they scream bloody murder if asked the indignity of teaching more than two classes a semester) and its easy to understand why higher educations costs are through the roof. University Presidents are far from blameless, but none of this changes the fact that fundraiser who can generate 6 and 7 figure gifts are hard to find and thus can command very large salaries.

  • Anthony

    Trustee controlled Public Universities operating in constrained fiscal/budgetary conditions as WigWag infers need access to corporate dollars (i.e. cultural patronage). One surefire way of accessing these dollars (contributions, grants, donations, endowments, etc.) requires organizational rainmakers; for last couple decades in public universities, this function primarily has devolved to University Presidents – consequently remuneration has corresponded.

  • Fat_Man

    “How to Tell if College Presidents Are Overpaid” By Richard Vedder, May 12, 2013

    “Universities are nonprofit institutions that get special privileges, such as government subsidies and tax exemptions, based on the assumption that they are good stewards of the public trust. Big corporations pay their leaders more, but those institutions pay taxes that partially benefit universities. They have a bottom line as well as stockholders and corporate boards that often fire leaders who perform poorly.

    “University presidents aren’t corporate executives. If higher education wishes to maintain its privileged position in American society, it needs to contain its spending. A good place to start is at the top.”

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