In a recent survey published by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the median presidential pay at private American colleges and universities for fiscal year 2008 was $358,746, a 6.5 percent increase over the previous year. Presidents at major research universities, such as Carnegie Mellon University, did even better, with a median compensation package of $627,750, which is 5.5 percent higher than the previous year’s pay.
Surprising to some, particularly in these tough economic times, 26 colleges and universities reported paying their chief executives more than $1 million in total compensation. Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, topped the list with a total pay package of almost $1.6 million. Just behind Jackson were David J. Sargent, president of Suffolk University, and Steadman Upham, president of University of Tulsa, who each took home almost $1.5 million. Upham’s pay deserves particular notice in that it was more than triple the amount he had received the year before.
It may ease some students’ concerns, though, to know that Jared L. Cohon, the president of Carnegie Mellon University, is not among the 26 presidents receiving more than $1 million, and the Chronicle of Higher Education ranks Cohon as only the 51st highest-paid university top executive, just above John L. Hennessy of Stanford University and below Stuart Rabinowitz of Hofstra University. Nevertheless, the article also reports that Cohon received an estimated $733,000 in salary and benefits last year, roughly $100,000 above the median compensation for his position and a nearly 24 percent increase over his pay package the previous year.
A 24 percent increase may seem hefty, but when asked for comment, Cohon emphasized the importance of understanding the context of his raise. “The [Board of] Trustees wanted to bring my salary more in line with presidential salaries at the 31 peer universities with which they compare my salary. In that group, my salary is one of the lowest and below the 25th percentile. Thus, they gave me a 15 percent raise in my base salary to about $535,000 with the rest of the increase due to increased benefits,” explained Cohon in an e-mail message. “In all other years, my raise has been no larger than the average staff raise.”
As reported in the article’s survey, full professors at Carnegie Mellon earned on average approximately $136,000 in the 2008–09 school year, a 3 percent increase over their salaries in the previous year. Associate professors received average compensation of approximately $98,500, only a 2 percent increase over their prior salaries.
It’s no news that student tuition and costs at Carnegie Mellon have risen along with faculty and executive compensation packages. According to Carnegie Mellon’s admissions department, undergraduate tuition and fees for the 2009–10 school year are $40,910. Admissions estimates that the combined cost of tuition with room and board comes out to approximately $50,640, breaking the $50,000 milestone for the first time. Adding in the required $610 activities fee brings the total cost of attendance up to $51,250, making Carnegie Mellon the seventh most expensive school in the United States.