Tuition revenue and enrollment for colleges are falling, but the people at the top aren’t feeling the pain. 2011 was a banner year for executive pay on campus, with college presidents raking in more money than ever before. Including bonuses and benefits, 42 presidents took home $1 million. Many of these presidents saw their pay double or triple over that year, according to data collected by the Chronicle of Higher Education. As the NYT reports, colleges defend these salaries by pointing to the need to retain top talent.
The boards at some of the highest-paying universities took pains to point out that such awards are an incentive to retain a successful president, and that the money is meant to recognize the achievements of the president’s total tenure.
Henry J. Nasella, the chairman of Northeastern’s board, released a statement explaining that the $2 million retirement benefit to Dr. Aoun was intended to ensure his continued service, and that since many of his major initiatives were still underway, “members of the board agree unanimously that continuing President Aoun’s leadership was among our higher priorities as trustees.”
It may be true that higher salaries help attract better presidents, but with revenue sources getting weaker, most colleges should be looking for a ways to cut back, not spend more. Administrative spending, in particular, has always been a key driver of the exploding cost of college, and is where most of the cutting ought to begin as colleges tighten their belts. If lower-level administrators and faculty begin to feel serious cuts, these massive salaries for presidents will become much more difficult to defend.