Average Pay Increase for Top Administrators Barely Outpaces Inflation

February 25, 2013

The median base salary for senior administrators at American colleges rose by 2.3 percent in the 2013 fiscal year, slightly ahead of the 2.1 percent rate of inflation in 2012, according to a report released today by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

While that is not a big jump, it marks a noticeable improvement for the administrators, whose average year-to-year salary increase lagged behind inflation by a full percentage point a year ago.

"We are pleased to see the upward trend in the median increases, and we hope to see that trend continue," said Andy Brantley, president of the association. Administrators' salaries, along with those of faculty and staff, reflect both the health of colleges and the value placed on employees, he said.

The association will release its annual reports on the salaries of faculty and of midlevel administrators and other higher-education professionals in coming weeks.

The rise in administrative pay at public institutions seems to indicate that they are continuing to rebound from the recession. Salaries for senior administrators at public colleges rose by 2 percent in 2012, an improvement from the 1.5-percent rise of a year earlier. From 2009 to 2011, the median salary for public college administrators saw no year-to-year gains.

Administrators at private institutions continue to do better than their public counterparts over all, with a median salary increase of 2.5 percent in 2012.

Not all senior administrators saw their salaries increase this year. About one-third of the 1,251 institutions in the survey reported a median increase in administrators' salaries of less than 1 percent, including 28 percent that reported an increase of zero.

"Many institutions are still struggling with funding and resources to operate their campuses and to adequately reward their employees," Mr. Brantley said.

Medical professionals again topped the list of highest-paid administrators. Deans of medicine made the most, with median pay of $445,781. Chief hospital administrators ranked second despite seeing their average salary drop by 10 percent from 2011. Their median salary was $408,000,

Chief executives of colleges and university systems saw healthy increases in base pay. Leaders of systems earned $370,470, on average, an increase of 15.5 percent. Presidents of single institutions received median base salaries of $274,300, an increase of 7.2 percent.

For many top executives on campuses, not all the benefits can be seen in salary figures.

For the first time this year, the association's survey of administrators' pay asked institutions whether top executives were provided, in part or in full, with ancillary benefits not available to all employees, such as housing, cars, club memberships, deferred compensation, and performance-based incentives.

Chief executive officers were the most likely to receive all such benefits. About 55 percent of system presidents and almost 70 percent of single-institution presidents received a car or car allowance. More than half of all presidents and 61 percent of single-campus presidents received full or partial compensation for housing.

Of the other top executive positions, chief development officers were most likely to receive special benefits. About 30 percent of the top institutional fund raisers received a car allowance, 17 percent got full or partial club memberships, and 15 percent received performance-based incentives.

After cars, performance-based incentives—often in the form of bonuses—were the most common executive-only benefit. More than 16 percent of all top executives and more than 20 percent of presidents received opportunities for performance-based incentives, according to the survey.

"Having institutions include performance-based incentive opportunities for their executives is becoming more and more prevalent," Mr. Brantley said. "It will be interesting to see how that goes in the future."

The report reflected the salaries of 55,017 individuals in 191 positions at four-year and two-year institutions. Of the colleges surveyed, 47 percent were public and 53 percent private.

Browse a complete list of median administrators' salaries.