MONEY College

Big Pay for College Presidents Doesn’t Pay Off for Students

These 10 private college presidents earned the most, but only one of their schools reached the top 10 in MONEY's latest ratings.

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.

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

    Robert Zimmer, president, University of Chicago, speaks during a panel discussion, "2012: The Path to the Presidency", at the University of Chicago in Chicago on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012.
    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

    Yale President Richard Levin smiles as he walks in his final procession during commencement at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
    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

    NYU President John Sexton at the 2012 New York University Commencement at Yankee Stadium on May 16, 2012 in New York City
    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

    David W. Leebron, President of 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

    Outgoing President Susan Hockfield at MIT’s 146th commencement
    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

    Charles Middleton speaks at The Second Annual PFLAG National Celebrates The Heartland Event on June 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois.
    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

    President of the University of Pennsylvania Amy Gutmann during commencement in Philadelphia, Monday, May 18, 2009
    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

    Lee C. Bollinger speaks at the 7th Annual Pulitzer Prizes in Journalism, Letters, Drama and Music Winners Luncheon, Columbia University on May 30, 2013 in New York City.
    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

    Quinnipiac University President John L. Lahey, September 13, 2012, in Hamden, Connecticut
    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

    Shirley Ann Jackson, a physicist and the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in front of the dome of the college's new theater in Troy, N.Y., in a Sept. 10, 2008 photo.
    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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