What Recession? College Presidents Get a Raise

In the midst of the worst economy in 60 years, presidents of private colleges and universities are now being paid more than ever before:

Thirty presidents of private colleges each earned more than $1 million in total compensation in 2008, up from 23 the previous year, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual salary report

Over all, though, 78 percent of presidents of private colleges had total compensation packages of less than $600,000 in 2008, and half earned less than $400,000. A year earlier, 82 percent earned less than $600,000, and 58 percent less than $400,000.

Meanwhile, the average tuition at private universities has increased 4 to 7 percent every year for the last five years. Families struggle to pay, while university presidents greedily soak up raises on top of their million-dollar salaries. Many of these universities are coping with record budget shortfalls.

Will someone explain to me why university presidents, who are leading supposedly non-profit institutions, deserve to have multi-million-dollar salaries? This is a joke. Most of them already enjoy living in a “presidential mansion” rent free, along with other perks such as cars or expense accounts. And now they are getting pay raises.

This is what, as an undergraduate, I came to see as the “business of higher ed.” It’s not just university presidents; it’s deans, provosts, and a host of other senior administrators. These people have never had a real job outside of a university. They went from college straight to grad school, got teaching positions, then squirmed their way up through campus politics into cushy administrative positions that require them to do little to no teaching, and no challenging work of any kind. They can’t believe their luck.

And remember, whether in good economic times or bad, you will never hear of a university that has enough money. It is a culture of greed and endless consumption.

In the private sector, I have no problem with people taking whatever money a company is willing to pay them. But the purpose of a non-profit university is to educate and advance research, not to enrich a small cadre of senior administrators beyond their wildest dreams. These schools may wear the label “not for profit,” but they are turning out multimillionaires by the dozens. For these fortunate few, the business of higher education has been very profitable indeed.

Think about that next time you mail a tuition check or make a student loan payment.

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