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Making Public College Presidents Millionaires Correlates With Increased Student Debt, Study Finds

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It pays to be a public college president, and it seems only to be getting better for them.

The number of chief executives at state colleges and universities earning at least $1 million more than doubled in fiscal year 2013, according to an analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education published Sunday. Topping the list once again is E. Gordon Gee, from his tenure as head of The Ohio State University, where he made $6 million in total compensation.

Texas A&M's R. Bowen Loftin took home $1.6 million in FY 2013, and North Dakota University system President Hamid Shirvani made $1.3 million.

But this year, a separate study released Sunday by the Institute for Policy Studies, is also noting the colleges with millionaire presidents are the same ones where students are more indebted and where adjuncts are more heavily relied upon.

The IPS report found that among the 25 state universities with the highest-paid presidents, student debt is rising faster than at state universities as a whole. In addition, spending on administrators outpaced scholarship spending by more than 2 to 1 and art-time adjunct increased more than twice as fast as the national average at all colleges. Adjuncts are paid much less than tenured and full-time faculty and typically do not have union representation.

"Presiding over a public university should not be a ticket to extreme wealth,” said report co-author Dr. Marjorie Wood of the Institute for Policy Studies. "What's even more disturbing is that these highly-paid university presidents have performed worse than their lower-paid peers when it comes to lowering costs for students and investing in the quality of instruction."

IPS came up a list of the worst offenders, which includes Gee's Ohio State. (Gee resigned last summer and now leads West Virginia University.) The top 5 on IPS' shame list:

1. Ohio State University
From FY 2010 to FY 2012, Ohio State paid its top executive $5.9 million while driving up student debt 23% faster than the national average. During the same period, the university hired 670 new administrators, 498 contingent and part-time faculty, and only 45 permanent faculty.
2. Pennsylvania State University
In FY 2012, Penn State’s Board of Trustees awarded $2.9 million in salary and severance pay to Graham Spanier – who was terminated “without cause” for his handling of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. From FY 2006 to FY 2012, the Board approved another $4.8 million in executive compensation while average student debt on campus grew by 49% to $35,100. During the same period, non-academic administrative staff increased by 224 while permanent faculty grew by only 32.
3. University of Minnesota
From FY 2010 to FY 2012, the University of Minnesota increased non-academic administrative staff 200% from 762 to 2,384. While the president pulled in $2.1 million, permanent faculty decreased 9% and the ranks of adjuncts grew 223% to nearly half of all instructional staff. From FY 2006 to FY 2012, expenditures per student on non-academic administration more than doubled from $2,574 to $5,790. Meanwhile, expenditures per student on scholarships dwindled from $1,424 to $914. By 2012, average student debt reached $29,702.
4. University of Michigan
From FY 2010 to FY 2012, the University of Michigan paid its top executive over $2.6 million. While the ranks of contingent and part-time faculty increased by 1,536 or 55% over the same period, permanent faculty grew by only 99 or 4%. From summer 2006 to summer 2012, average student debt rose 18% to $27,815 as expenditures on non-academic administration outpaced scholarships by almost 3 to 1.
5. University of Washington
From FY 2010 to FY 2012, the University of Washington decreased permanent faculty by 19% - more than any other school in the top 25. Over the same period, the university increased part-time faculty by 801 or 239% while paying its top executive $2.3 million. From summer 2009 to summer 2012, average student debt rose 26% faster than the national average at four-year public universities.

The Chronicle noted the pay for public college presidents is growing for the entire sector, not just those millionaires at the top. The median pay overall grew 5 percent to $478,896 pay for 2012-13.

So does that mean every college president has to be paid more in order to take these jobs? Not necessarily. The Chronicle explains how University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart took a 23 percent pay cut leaving Temple University to head west. Hart earned $560,500 in 2012-13, and that's just fine with her. "Nobody is starving at my house," Hart said.

The Chronicle of Higher Education survey was based on information about 256 leaders from 227 public colleges and systems.

And just to be clear about which public colleges refused to provide information on salaries, the Chronicle released the names of schools declining to cooperate with their study: City Colleges of Chicago, Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University system, Louisiana Community and Technical College system, Massachusetts Community Colleges, Morgan State University, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, San Mateo County Community College District, South Carolina State University, South Carolina Technical College system, Tennessee State University, and University of Idaho.

UPDATE, May 21: IPS took down the study from their website and posted this update:

Due to questions about information we gathered from the American Federation of Teachers Higher Ed Data Center website, we are working with AFT to correct any inaccuracies in their data. The Institute for Policy Studies will issue a revised report once all AFT data has been corrected. The report’s findings on executive compensation and student debt are not affected.

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