The Chronicle of Higher Education, um, chronicles a rather interesting trend:

The day of the million-dollar college president is drawing near, and by one reckoning, may have arrived.

Four presidents of private universities earned more than $800,000 in the 2002 fiscal year. If their pay for serving on corporate boards is added to that university compensation, three of those leaders already earn more than $1-million annually.

Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received $891,400 in pay and benefits. In addition, she earned as much as $591,000 for serving on the boards of eight corporations.

While pay for public-university presidents still has not reached those heights, the compensation of the highest-paid leaders of public colleges rivals that of the top-earning leaders of private institutions.

But as colleges have faced the effects of an economic recession by raising tuition, slashing academic programs, and cutting faculty and staff positions, the soaring compensation of college presidents, particularly at public institutions, has drawn increasing scrutiny, and sometimes criticism.

“It’s not going to be good for higher education if it becomes seen, at a time when tuition is going up, that college presidencies have become a new route to being a millionaire,” says Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, in San Jose, Calif.

Even so, The Chronicle’s annual surveys of the compensation of public- and private-college leaders show that presidents have not been bashful about accepting raises, nor have boards stopped handing them out.

What’s particularly interesting about the trend is that the college presidents making the huge salaries are not necessarily from the Harvards and Stanfords, with comparatively mediocre institutions like Texas Christian higher on the list.

Still, a bit of perspective is in order. On most college campuses, the head football and/or basketball coach is still making more than the president.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. lefty skeptic says:

    How can Ms. Jackson be worth 891 big ones to her college when she sits on the boards of 8 freakin’ corporations??? She probably works 4 hours a week for RPI.

    This seems just like what has happened with the salaries of CEOs and athletes. Is the common mechanism here that salaries are common knowledge, so that even mediocre candidates can hold their employers hostage?

  2. This is why I don’t donate to my own alma mater, whose salary is up there in the big 6 digits. Why should I give them a part of my measly salary when cutting this guy’s pay would bring in more loot than I could possibly give them?

  3. Person of Choler says:

    Football coaches cause less damage to young intellects than the PC-enforcing twits who preside over most colleges. I’m glad that the coaches are paid more.