Nam Y. Huh—AP
By Greg Daugherty and Kaitlin Mulhere
September 10, 2015

What’s the relationship between college presidents’ pay and the value their schools deliver to students?

Not much, it seems.

That’s what we discovered when we compared MONEY’s just-released 2015 Best Colleges rankings, which evaluate schools on 21 measures of educational quality, affordability, and career earnings, with the latest available data on private college presidents’ compensation, published by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The latter numbers are from 2012, but in all likelihood the salary figures have only gone up since then.

At a time when parents and students scrape to find the money for college, or go deep into debt to afford it, 36 private college presidents brought home more than $1 million each. Nearly 150 college presidents received more than $400,000, making them better paid than the president of the United States.

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Among the findings:

  • The highest paid college president, Shirley Ann Jackson of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, took home a base salary of $945,000 plus another $276,474 in bonuses, $31,874 in nontaxable benefits, and $5.8 million in deferred compensation, for a stunning $7.1 million in total. That works out to more than $1,000 per student at her school. And where does her school fall in our value rankings? A good but not spectacular 147.
  • In second place for total compensation was Quinnipiac University’s John L. Lahey, whose take that year was close to $3.8 million. You’ll find his school further down our rankings, at 246.
  • Coming in at No. 5 on the highest paid list was Charles R. Middleton, then president of Roosevelt University in Chicago, whose total compensation was nearly $1.8 million. You won’t find his school in our rankings at all; its six-year graduation rate was too low to make the cut.

In fact, of the top 10 schools in MONEY’s value rankings of 736 colleges, only one shows up in the list of 10 highest paid presidents: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which we rated No. 3. Its then-president, Susan Hockfield, earned a total compensation package of about $1.7 million, putting her in sixth place for pay.

Here are the 10 highest paid presidents of private colleges, based on the Chronicle of Higher Education data, along with how their schools did in MONEY’s latest rankings. And to see how much their counterparts at public colleges are making, check out this earlier report.


10. University of Chicago

Nam Y. Huh—AP

Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago

Total compensation: $1,369,856

Base salary: $916,620

Earnings per student: $89.86

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 127


9. Yale University

Jessica Hill—AP

Richard C. Levin, former president of Yale University

Total compensation: $1,375,365

Base salary: $1,099,221

Earnings per student: $115.52

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 21


8. New York University

D. Dipasupil—Getty Images

John E. Sexton, president of New York University

Total compensation: $1,404,484

Base salary: $1,240,614

Earnings per student: $31.55

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 354


7. Rice University

Bob Levey—Getty Images

David W. Leebron, president of Rice University

Total compensation: $1,522,502

Base salary: $795,305

Earnings per student: $234.81

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 14


6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

David L. Ryan—Boston Globe/Getty Images

Susan Hockfield, former president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology*

Total compensation: $1,679,097

Base salary: $713,106

Earnings per student: $150.07

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 3

*Hockfield served in this role for only part of the year in 2012.


5. Roosevelt University

Tasos Katopodis—Getty Images for PFLAG

Charles R. Middleton, former president of Roosevelt University*

Total compensation: $1,762,956

Base salary: $465,928

Earnings per student: $277.94

MONEY Best Colleges rank: Roosevelt’s six-year graduation rate is below the national median, so it was screened out of the rankings.

*Middleton retired this year.


4. University of Pennsylvania

Matt Rourke—AP

Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania

Total compensation: $2,473,952

Base salary: $1,123,376

Earnings per student: $100.06

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 12


3. Columbia University

Dave Kotinsky—Getty Images

Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University

Total compensation: $3,389,917

Base salary: $1,012,707

Earnings per student: $128.06

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 28


2. Quinnipiac University

Richard Messina—MCT via Getty Images

John L. Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University

Total compensation: $3,759,076

Base salary: $980,000

Earnings per student: $436.39

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 246


1. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

James Estrin—The New York Times/Redux Pictures

Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Total compensation: $7,143,312

Base salary: $945,000

Earnings per student: $1,072.89

MONEY Best Colleges rank: 147

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