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More Million Dollar College Presidents than Ever Before

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Thirty presidents and chief executives at private colleges and universities across the country earned over one million dollars in total pay and benefits during 2008, according to an annual survey released by the Chronicle of Higher Education on November 15, 2010.

As recently as 2004, no college presidents received over $1 million in annual compensation and last year’s Chronicle survey uncovered 23 college presidents with seven-figure incomes. The current number has jumped to 30 and these surging salaries at elite private institutions have caused scrutiny from critics that believe private colleges are not doing enough to contain costs and rapidly riding tuition prices.

The Chronicle’s most recent report report is based on a review of federal tax documents from 448 private-college presidents. The Internal Revenue Service changed the way colleges needed to report compensation for 2008 and asked colleges to report salaries according to the calendar year, not the fiscal year, as in years past. This means that some dollar amounts overlap with figures that were reported the previous year.

High Tuition, High Salaries at Private Colleges?

College tuition is on the rise—there’s no denying it. Over 100 colleges are now charging over $50,000 in annual tuition and fees and the Chronicle has found that salaries and compensation are increasing just as quickly at some private colleges.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the most of the pay packages cited in the survey were negotiated before the brunt of the economic crisis hit colleges in the fall of 2008 but the last year’s survey, which found that 23 private-college presidents earned $1 million or more in compensation, was also a record at the time.

The Million Dollar Club of College Presidents

Bernard Lander, an Orthodox rabbi and a sociologist, founded Touro College in New York in 1970 as a Jewish college. He watched it grow into 31 schools with branches around the world and received over $4 million in deferred compensation at his retirement in 2008. Why? Trustees decided that he had been underpaid during his tenure as president.

Lander passed away in February at the age of 94, but he had received a total compensation package of $4,786,830 which made him the highest-earning private-college president during the 2008-09 fiscal year. At the time of his death, $900,000 of the awarded amount had been paid out and the remainder will be paid to his estate.

John R. Brazil, who retired in January as president of Trinity University in Texas, was the second-highest earner during 2008. Brazil received $2,777,653 in total compensation.

The highest-paid sitting college president was R. Gerald Turner, of Southern Methodist University, who earned $2,774,000 in total compensation. According to the school, his compensation was unusually high because he cashed out a $1.5-million life-insurance policy and bought his own policy.

Other college presidents that received large one-time payouts were John L. Lahey of Quinnipiac University, who earned $1,845,427 in total compensation, and Walter D. Broadnax of Clark Atlanta University, who received $1,158,537 in total pay.

Million Dollar College Presidents: Two Points of View

Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, tried to soften the blow of the million dollar college presidents news by telling the Washington Post, “It’s X number of presidents out of 4,500 institutions. It’s half of 1 percent. About half the people on that list have a very good reason why they earned that money.”

Bob Giannino-Racine, executive director of ACCESS, a Boston nonprofit that helps students find ways to afford college, has a different point of view. Giannino-Racine feels that these increasing salaries are troubling—especially at a time when college costs are more than many students can pay. “With all the challenges families are facing, the number of presidents making a million dollars a year really takes me aback. Would it be meaningfully different to their quality of life if they made $700,000? It just astonishes me,” he told the Boston Globe.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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