Colleges increase presidential pay slightly amid financial challenges

'Executive pay is an emotional topic'

The number of private college presidents earning more than $1 million dropped, but the average salary increased 2012 to 2013, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education's annual analysis.

On average, private college leaders earned $436,429 in 2013, up 5.6% from about $400,000 in 2012. But the number of presidents earning more than $1 million fell from 36 to 32.

See last year's report

To determine these numbers, reporters examined 2013 IRS Form 990s from 497 private nonprofit colleges, which generated data for 558 presidents who served for at least part of the calendar year.

Based on the findings, the highest paid presidents are:

1. Columbia University's Lee Bollinger, $4,615,230;
2. University of Pennsylvania's (UPenn) Amy Gutmann, $3,065,746;
3. High Point University's Nido Qubein, $2,909,148;
4. Yeshiva University's Richard Joel, $2,503,794; and
5. Vanderbilt University's Nicholas Zeppos, $2,147,452.

College officials told the Chronicle that pay matches institutional ambitions.

"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," says David Cohen, chairperson of UPenn's Board of Trustees.

Incoming president to university: Pay me less money

Much of Gutmann's compensation is performance-based, Cohen says, as well as comparable to other institutions' policies.

"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," says Jason Adwin, an SVP at Sibson Consulting.

As more colleges face financial challenges, some are decreasing presidential pay. At Yeshiva University, President Richard Joel earned $2.5 million—$1.6 million of which was in deferred compensation—in 2013. Last year, Joel voluntarily dropped his salary by $100,000 and this year cut it by another $50,000 (Kambhampati, Chronicle of Higher Education, 12/6; Chronicle of Higher Education report, 12/6).

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