Reaching an inflection point with college presidential pay?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

There were signs in the recently released Chronicle of Higher Education report on college and university presidents’ paychecks that higher education is gaining a sense of limits. From 2010 to 2011, the total compensation for the chiefs of nonprofit higher-ed institutions edged up only 3.2 percent. But there were also signs of the old profligacy.

The number of presidents collecting more than $1 million rose by 17 percent, to 42. And 2011 was a tough economic year, when median household income dropped and average student debt soared toward $30,000; one could argue that presidential compensation should have dropped as well. Next year’s survey will tell whether universities are serious about putting the brakes on presidential pay hikes.

Two of the nation’s five highest-compensated presidents were Northeastern’s Joseph Aoun, at $3.1 million, and former Tufts president Lawrence Bacow, at $2.2 million. Also in the million-dollar club were the presidents of Amherst College, Boston University, Brown University, and MIT.

Northeastern rightly extolled the university’s across-the-board improvements under Aoun, whose salary included an as-yet-unpaid retirement bonus, while Tufts and Amherst pointed out that their payouts included lump-sum benefits to retiring chiefs.

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