Presidents vs. Students


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Exploring University President Salaries

University of Chicago president Robert J. Zimmer is the highest paid private college president in the country, earning a $3.3 million annual salary. Zimmer joins dozens of other highly paid college executives. Let’s examine just how much they make and how it compares to what students and their parents are shelling out for tuition.

What They Make

Forty-two private college presidents make upwards of $1 million in total compensation every year. Combined, their salaries are enough to:
… book 240 tickets to space with Virgin Galactic
… buy books for 93,000 students
… purchase 43,000 used cars
Of the 550 private universities studied, the executives of about 7% make more than $1 million. How does that compare to society at large?
$1 million+ earners
Private college presidents 7.6%
Americans overall 0.1%

Salaries and Tuition

Of the 50 private institutions with the highest paid presidents, only one (Belmont University) has undergrad tuition under $30,000, and their average annual tuition is more than $41,000. That’s almost as much as the average American makes in a year.
Let’s look at how many students’ annual tuition could be funded by select presidents, using the most recent published tuition figures.
Dennis J. Murray, Marist College
Annual salary: $2,688,148
Tuition: $30,700
Jim Young Kim, Dartmouth College
Annual salary: $917,625
Tuition: $46,752
Average salary (of 50 highest paid): $1,393,539
Average tuition (of same schools): $41,354

Is It Fair?

While the executive compensation numbers of the universities we’ve explored are eye-popping, do these college presidents deserve the high salaries they get?
8x higher
Salary of University of Chicago’s Robert J. Zimmer compared to the average private college president; Zimmer also receives free housing in Chicago, one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.
Supporters of lofty executive pay argue that the jobs are massive, comparable even to running a small city. Here’s a look at some of the institutions with the largest budgets and what their presidents earn relative to the budgets:
President/college Total expenditures Salary
Amy Gutmann, University of Pennsylvania $5,600,000,000 $2,091,764
Richard H. Brodhead, Duke University $4,400,000,000 $1,180,027
Ronald J. Daniels, Johns Hopkins University $4,300,000,000 $1,184,535
Nicholas S. Zeppos, Vanderbilt University $3,500,000,000 $1,234,749
John E. Sexton, New York University $3,400,000,000 $1,473,754