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How Much to Pay the College Prez?

This article is more than 10 years old.

Today's second hour looks at how the financial crisis is hitting higher education. And as belts tighten, it’s perhaps inevitable that executive compensation -- the big payouts to people at the top -- will come under scrutiny in academia as it has on Wall Street and in Detroit.

In fact, officials at Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, and Washington University in St. Louis have reportedly already taken voluntary pay cuts or given compensation back.

Paul Fain, a guest on today's show, covers college presidents and educational leaders for The Chronicle of Higher Education. He wrote recently on rising presidential paychecks: “The growing demands of the job of college president, as well as the corporate culture that has started to take root among governing boards and college administrators, have contributed to an industrywide ratcheting up of presidential salaries.”

No doubt, the pay checks have grown in recent years. At public universities, executive pay has gone up 36 percent over the past five years; at liberal arts schools it’s gone up 18 percent over the same time period. The president of Suffolk University, David Sargent, recently made $2.8 million in total. He’s the nation’s top paid university executive; but he’s not alone in that high-earning tier.

Here are some stats from a report issued by The Chronicle on Nov. 21:

Topping the $1 million mark for 2006-07 are the presidents of Columbia, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, New York University, Drexel, Johns Hopkins, Emory, the University of Pennsylvania, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Many of the presidents at large public schools also draw salaries of more than half a million dollars. The top ten for 2007-08, all over the $500,000 mark, included the University of Delaware, Ohio State University, the University of Washington, Washington State University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Texas at Austin, Arizona State University at Tempe, the University of Connecticut, the Michigan State University system, and the Louisiana State University system.

The same goes for private liberal arts colleges. For the 2006-07 school year, the top ten all had executives making more than half a million dollars. That includes Swarthmore, Carleton, Williams, Franklin & Marshall, Allegheny, Antioch, Grinnell, Bucknell, Ursinus, and Hillsdale.

It’s all part of a pattern of rising costs across higher education. The Chronicle’s Fain says it raises serious questions for the leaders themselves. “As pay continues to rise," he writes, "and colleges increasingly engage in bidding wars to land top candidates, a frequent question is: How much should money matter to a college president?”

This program aired on December 8, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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