In 2011-12, the median salary of public university presidents rose 4.7% to more than $440,000 a year. This increase surpassed the compensation growth for university professors and outpaced the rate of inflation and the earnings of a typical worker in the US, according to Richard Vedder, an economics professor at Ohio State University, on Bloomberg.com
This median statistic conceals that there are presidents that earned more than double that amount. At the top of the list sits Graham Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, who earned $2,906,721 in total compensation.
There doesn’t appear to be any clear reasons or standards as to why certain presidents are being paid vast amounts while students are struggling to pay for their education.
Factors such as university size and graduation rates, while they would seem like logical indicators of pay, do not hold any bearing on how much a president is compensated.
David R. Hopkins, the president of Wright State University — an unremarkable commuter school ranked rather poorly in major-magazine rankings — makes far more than the presidents of the much larger, and vastly more prestigious, University of California at Berkeley, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, or the University of Wisconsin.
There is no significant statistical relationship found between academic quality and presidential pay based on compensation and Forbes magazine’s rankings of best colleges.
Also, there is no general consensus on what should be used to determine the salary of university presidents.
Fundamental questions, the answers to which could help determine consistent benchmarks for compensation, remain unanswered or kept secret. No one knows exactly how much students are learning compared to students at other institutions or if they are learning more now than students did five years ago. Without this information it makes it difficult to judge what presidents deserve their pay and raises.
University enrollments fell in the closing academic year nationally for the first time in more than a decade. More and more individuals are questioning the value of American higher education as it now exists — the benefits seem to be stagnating, while the costs are rising.
Mitch Davis of Purdue University understands that higher education need to be made leaner and include performance-based rewards for achievement. He devised a presidential contract that tied compensation to achievement goals. He took a pay cut compared to his predecessors, but made provisions that allows the president to earn significant performance bonuses.
He has also frozen tuition fees for two years and salaries for most administrators.
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.