As Donald Trump put it: “You look at the kind of salaries paid to the heads of the colleges—it’s like they’re running a business, a real business.”
Indeed they are, to judge by the salaries reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, for 2013.
The median salary for private-college presidents in office for the full year was $436,429. Thirty-two of the presidents earned more than $1 million. At the very top was Columbia University’s Lee Bollinger, who took home over $4.5 million in total compensation.
The median base pay in 2013 was $347,789, with New York University’s John Sexton taking top honors, with more than $1.2 million.
The Chronicle also calculated the tuitions equivalent to total compensation. In 2013, the median presidential pay for private colleges was 12.06 times the median tuition, starting with 97.14 times tuition at Columbia University.
And then there’s presidential compensation in comparison to expenses. While the median presidential pay for private colleges was $4837.1 per $1 million in total expenditures, Nido Qubein of High Point University managed to get more than $22 thousand—for a total compensation of $2,909,148.
Finally, to put things in a different perspective, the compensation of private college presidents climbed 5.6 percent between 2012 and 2013, to a median of $436,000. According to the AAUP (pdf), faculty salaries at private-independent colleges and universities increased by only 2.6 percent: 3 percent for Full Professors, 2.5 percent for Associate Professors, 2.1 percent for Assistant Professors, and 1.7 percent for Instructors.*
And then, of course, there’s the non-faculty staff at private colleges. According to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (pdf), the median increase in salary for non-exempt staff at private institutions was only 2 percent.
So, what can we conclude? The discrepancies between the pay increases of private college presidents and the faculty and staff who work for them clearly indicate that, yes, “it’s like they’re running a business, a real business.”
*I wasn’t able to find comparable data on Adjunct Professors. However, according to Laura McKenna, using 2012 data, some of the private colleges with the highest-paid presidents also had very high percentages of adjunct faculty. For example, Columbia University had 60 percent adjuncts while the percentage at New York University was even higher: 79. Let’s say the average annual salary of Adjunct Professors was $20 thousand in 2013 (according to an NPR report), then the ratio of president’s compensation to adjunct salary at Columbia University was about 230 and, at New York University, 73.