Campus Leaders’ Big Responsibilities Often Mean Big Bucks

Campus Leaders’ Big Responsibilities Often Mean Big Bucks
Susan Dutca-Lovell

The mantle of "College President" is one that includes a lot of responsibility and scrutiny, but for some in the higher ranks, the lucrative pay makes it worth it. According to data released by The Chronicle of Higher Education, some private-college presidents have made over $5.4 million in a single year.

The average annual salary for full-time college/university presidents in 2014 was roughly $512,449, with 39 of the top earners receiving more than $1 million. Top earner Jack Varsalona, President of Wilmington University, earned $5,449,405 while shepherding the private university of roughly 20,000 students. Varsalona earned 129 times the average student salary of $42,000, according to MarketWatch.

One way these earnings are acquired is through a deferred-compensation package, according to Bloomberg. Presidents are paid "money from an investment account at a certain time provided [they] meet certain criteria," which becomes an "incentive for a college president to stick around." Varsalona earned $829,335 in 2013 and earned more than $4.6 million in deferred compensation in 2014. However, not all earnings come from deferred compensation, and some presidents may earn over $1 million just in bonus, in addition to their base pay.

Several well-paid Ivy League Presidents also made the top 10 list, including those from the University of Pennsylvania (roughly $3M); Columbia University ($2.4M); and Cornell University ($1.6M).

Regardless of pay, some claim the role of being a college or university president "isn't all fancy gowns and droll speeches," especially when they must meet "demands for more financial aid," while simultaneously leading students on hostile campuses rife with racial tensions, allegations of hate speech and sexual assault and everything else that goes with it. With rising tuition costs and student debt, do you find the seven-figure salaries to be too generous? Would you accept such a position for a smaller salary than some of the aforementioned lucrative contracts?

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