Leadership & Governance

32 Leaders of Private Colleges Earned More Than $1 Million in 2013

December 06, 2015

Columbia U.; Gilbert Carrasquillo, Getty Images; High Point U.; Chuck Myers, Zuma Wire, Newscom; Vanderbilt U.; Tulane U.
Down from top left, the highest earners: Lee Bollinger of Columbia U., Amy Gutmann of the U. of Pennsylvania, Nido Qubein of High Point U., Richard Joel of Yeshiva U., Nicholas Zeppos of Vanderbilt U., and Scott Cowen of Tulane U.
The pay of 32 private-college presidents topped $1 million in 2013, with the two longest-serving Ivy League leaders, Lee Bollinger, of Columbia University, and Amy Gutmann, of the University of Pennsylvania, earning the most, a Chronicle analysis has found.

Mr. Bollinger earned just over $4.6 million, including $1.26 million in compensation that had been set aside over 11 years. Such deferred payments, which are often forfeited if a leader resigns before a specific date, are a common retention tool benefiting college presidents.

Ms. Gutmann earned $3.06 million, which included a $500,000 bonus she received for her work on a five-year capital campaign that raised $4.3 billion.

While the millionaires’ club is filled with names of leaders of prominent colleges, several presidents of less-well-known institutions also made the list.

The third-highest-paid president was Nido R. Qubein of High Point University, which is perhaps known best for its free ice cream, campus putting green, and dormitories with outdoor hot tubs. The university has the smallest endowment, $42 million, among the 10 highest-paid presidents.

Mr. Qubein earned just over $2.9 million, with slightly over $1.6 million of it in the form of compensation deferred for three years.

Executive Compensation at Private and Public Colleges

View compensation data on chief executives at public and private nonprofit colleges in the United States as far back as 2008.

High Point, a liberal-arts campus in North Carolina, has been on a construction spree in recent years. While building new academic centers, it has also provided extravagant student amenities as a way to gain national recognition.

Richard F. Vert, chairman of High Point’s Board of Trustees, praised Mr. Qubein, who became president in 2005, for expanding the campus from 92 to 410 acres and tripling enrollment to 4,325.

"It would be impossible to compensate Dr. Qubein for the incredible results he delivers to HPU," Mr. Vert said in an email to The Chronicle. "We believe that in him we have the best college president in the country to lead our growing university."

Such sentiment was echoed at other colleges, with presidential pay described as a matter of matching institutional ambitions.

David L. Cohen, chair of the Board of Trustees at Penn, pointed out that the university is among the most complicated higher-education enterprises in the country, and that Ms. Gutmann’s compensation should reflect that status.

"We believe she is the best university president in the country, and being No. 2 in the Chronicle rankings is consistent with that positioning," he said. "If you’re going to recruit and retain the type of talent that you need to run a university of this complexity and to continue to advance this university’s reputation and the quality of its product, you have to fairly compensate individuals for doing that job."

A large portion of Ms. Gutmann’s pay is performance-based, Mr. Cohen said, adding that the board also looks closely at benchmarks in the pay policies of other institutions. There is always the concern, he said, that Penn could lose her to another college or to the corporate world, where the compensation level for chief executives and other top positions is often higher than in higher education.

Over all, the typical private-college leader made $436,429 in 2013, up 5.6 percent from the year before.

The analysis is based on the latest available federal-tax filings, known as Form 990s, of the 500 private nonprofit colleges with the largest endowments. Some private institutions, including Brigham Young University’s campuses in Utah, Idaho, and Hawaii, cite a religious exemption from filing Form 990. The data comprise 558 presidents at 497 institutions for all or part of the 2013 calendar year.

Public-College Pay

The Chronicle surveys the pay of public-college leaders separately, through surveys of all public doctoral research universities and state college and university systems with at least three campuses and with enrollments of at least 50,000 students. These figures are not directly comparable to data reported for private colleges, because they reflect slightly different categories of pay and different periods of time.

In our most recent public-college report, on the pay of 238 chief executives at 220 public colleges and systems in the 2014 fiscal year, the typical leader earned just over $428,000, almost 7 percent more than the median from 2013. Just two surpassed the $1-million mark. Rodney A. Erickson, of Pennsylvania State University, was the highest-paid in 2014, earning just over $1.4 million.

For private colleges, the number of presidents making more than a million dollars declined from 36 in 2012 to 32. Such a reduction is not uncommon, because of payouts of deferred compensation or one-time payments. Since 2008, 77 private-college leaders have earned more than $1 million in at least one year.

A new name on the list is Leo I. Higdon Jr., of Connecticut College, who earned $1.15 million. That includes nearly $700,000 in sabbatical and vacation pay that was distributed when he retired, at the end of 2013. Previous presidents had taken sabbaticals after their terms of office, but because Mr. Higdon had not done so, Connecticut was obligated to pay out the money written into his contract, said Deborah MacDonnell, a spokeswoman for the college.

The Chronicle’s analysis found that, on average, a private-college president’s salary in 2013 accounted for about half of 1 percent of his or her institution’s overall budget. Mr. Qubein, of High Point, had the greatest percentage of the institutional budget devoted to presidential compensation: He earned $22,353 for every $1 million of expenditures.

As governing boards set presidential pay, there’s more dialogue today about how it will be perceived in the eyes of faculty members, students, and the news media, said Jason M. Adwin, a senior vice president at Sibson Consulting, which provides advice on compensation issues to corporations and nonprofit groups.

"Executive pay is an emotional topic, especially in an environment where tuition is so expensive, and faculty professors look at compensation and the merit increases that they are getting in comparison to president pay," he said.

Such conversations are happening across the country at a time when colleges feel growing concern about financial constraints.

A few colleges and their leaders appear to be rethinking presidential pay.

Richard M. Joel, of Yeshiva University, earned $2.5 million in 2013, largely because of $1.6 million in deferred compensation, making him the fourth-highest-paid president. In recent years, the university has endured severe financial challenges. In 2014, Moody’s Investors Service said the college had "severe operating deficits," which were expected to continue through 2016. It described Yeshiva’s outlook as "negative."

Moshael J. Straus, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said in an email to The Chronicle that "President Joel and his team have navigated many challenges and today the university is well positioned to further its unique mission and provide students with a world-class educational experience."

A Yeshiva spokesman said the deferred compensation that Mr. Joel received in 2013 was consistent with packages paid to chief executives at universities similar in size to Yeshiva, and that Mr. Joel voluntarily reduced his salary in 2014 by $100,000 and again in 2015, by $50,000.

Another institution, Sweet Briar College, apparently rethought presidential pay after its near-demise this year.

In 2013, Jo Ellen Parker, president at the time, earned $319,395. Jennifer McManamay, a spokeswoman for the college, declined to disclose the salary of the current president, Phillip C. Stone. But she did note that his compensation was "significantly less" than Ms. Parker’s.

Sandhya Kambhampati is a database reporter who analyzes and writes about higher-education numbers. Want to talk about data? Tweet @sandhya__k, or write to her at sandhya@chronicle.com.