Median Salaries for Presidents of U.S. Public Colleges Reached Over $400,000 This Year

May 13, 2013

As tuition and student debt climbed during the fiscal year 2011-2012, so did salaries for presidents of U.S. public colleges, a new report released Sunday by The Chronicle of Higher Education showed. The median pay package, including deferred compensation and other one-time payments, increased nearly 5 percent to $441,392, CNN Money reported. The median base salary rose 2 percent to $373,800.

The data were culled from federal tax returns of 212 presidents at 191 schools, according to Reuters. The top earner was Graham B. Spanier, former head of Pennsylvania State University, who garnered $2.9 million, The Chronicle of Higher Education noted. Of that total, $350,959 was base salary, $1.2 million was deferred compensation, $1.2 million was severance pay and $82,557 was retirement account contributions, according to CNN. Spanier was fired in 2011 for allegedly mishandling the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.

Four presidents' wages surpassed the $1 million mark in fiscal 2011-2012 compared to three the previous year. After Spanier, Jay Gogue of Auburn University earned the next highest salary: $2.54 million. E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University followed with $1.89 million. Alan G. Merten of George Mason University ranked fourth at $1.86 million. Most often, these large numbers were due to the addition of a sizable bonus and payments of deferred compensation, severance or retirement payments to an already ample base salary. (Many presidents receive a large portion of their salary in deferred compensation, meaning they'll only receive it when and if they remain in the position for a predetermined number of years.) While this pay arrangement helps retain presidents, which schools' trustees prefer, it clouds the true pay these professionals receive annually, making analysis more difficult.

Not all presidents accepted an increase in base salary in 2011-12. For example, Jo Ann M. Gora of Ball State University turned down a raise, instead requesting her base salary remain at $431,244. However, she did receive a deferred compensation payout that had accumulated over five years, which combined with other benefits, took her total pay to $984,647. The Chronicle of Higher Education listed her total compensation as fifth-highest for college presidents in the U.S.

"Dr. Gora's compensation reflects her performance as president," said Hollis E. Hughes Jr., president of the school's Board of Trustees, in a statement to The Chronicle of Higher Education. "Without question, Ball State University is in a much better place today than it was when Dr. Gora arrived."

However, even greater numbers of presidents at U.S. private colleges − 36 − exceeded the $1 million compensation mark, according to a 2010 survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Reuters noted. The median pay for the 494 presidents included in that survey came in at $397,860.

Compiled by Doresa Banning


"4 Public-College Presidents Pass $1-Million Mark in Pay,", May 12, 2013, Jack Stripling and Jonah Newman

"Ex-Penn State president tops highest paid list,", May 12, 2013, Blake Ellis

"Salaries of public college chiefs rise, median tops $400,000,", May 12, 2013, Atossa Araxia Abrahamian

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