How Much Should College Presidents Earn?

One candidate in the running to be the next UT-Austin President reportedly wants twice what current President Bill Powers earns.

By Laura RiceMarch 12, 2015 10:03 am

Leading a university is a big job. You’re the face of the institution… and the one who ultimately takes the blame when something goes wrong. So what’s a fair salary for a public college president? Should they be paid like CEOs?

According to the latest data from the Chronicle of Higher Education – which is from 2013 – UT-Austin President Bill Powers makes more than $730 thousand a year. One candidate to replace Powers, Andrew Hamilton, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford in England, reportedly would demand twice that.

“The idea of someone making more than a million dollars is sort of quaint at this point,” Chronicle of Higher Education senior reporter Jack Stripling says.

But, Stripling says, median pay is under $500 thousand for public college presidents.

“You do hear that colleges say that they are competing with other publics and privates,” Stripling says. “They say that this is sort of the going rate. The refrain that you hear from search consultants, the people who do a lot of the legwork on these searches, is that there is a very small number of people, particularly when you get to the level of an elite institution like UT-Austin, who have the skill sets that are appropriate and have the bona fides that the board wants.”

Stripling says it’s interesting that Hamilton reportedly wants $1.4 million – the same amount that the current president at Texas A&M University is making.

So how much is appropriate to pay the leader of a public college?

“Most institutions at this point tap into a lot of foundation money or private dollars to pay these salaries and that’s kind of how they justify – they say it’s not coming from the state coffers.”

But, he says, while there may not be a financial obstacle – there is the matter of optics.

“To be paying a salary that is perceived publicly as unseemly might have a backlash,” Stripling says.