NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – For the first time, compensation for private college presidents has broken through the million-dollar barrier.
In 2004, five presidents earned more than $1 million. And in all, 50 earned over $500,000.
That's just one of the findings from a special report on college and university presidents' compensation published Monday in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The highest paid private college president is Donald E. Ross of Lynn University, a small liberal arts school in Boca Raton, Fla. His compensation package topped $5 million last year, the bulk of it because he was awarded $4.5 million in deferred compensation to be paid out after he retires in June 2006.
Christine Lynn, chair of the University's board, told the Chronicle that the sizeable pay package was because Ross, who has been with the school for 34 years and at one point pulled it out of bankruptcy, hadn't taken a salary in his early years during which time the school also didn't have money to put toward his retirement.
Other million-dollar pay packages went to Audrey K. Doberstein of Wilmington College ($1.37 million); E. Gordon Gee of Vanderbilt University ($1.33 million); John R. Silber of Boston University ($1.25 million); and John M. McCardell Jr. of Middlebury College ($1.21 million).
The Chronicle also looked at the pay packages this year of the 139 public university presidents. It found:
• 23 will have total compensation packages topping $500,000 this year, up 35 percent from a year ago.
• Another 30 will get between $400,000 and $499,999 in compensation.
• And the median compensation for the post is $360,000.
The best compensated public university leaders are: Mary Sue Coleman of the University of Michigan system ($724,604); David P. Roselle of the University of Delaware ($720,522); Mark G. Yudof of the University of Texas system ($693,677), Carl V. Patton of the Georgia State University ($688,406); and John T. Casteen III of the University of Virginia ($659,670).
The compensation for public university presidents doesn't necessarily all come from state coffers (i.e., taxpayer dollars). Part of it, including benefits, bonuses and perquisites, may come from private foundations. The Chronicle found that 43 percent of public college and university presidents will receive part of the compensation from a private entity.
The list of top-earning presidents at public universities also can be somewhat volatile.
"The compensation packages of some presidents are subject to periodic spikes because of the different ways of paying performance and retention bonuses and deferred compensation, including retirement plans that vest only after certain requirements are fulfilled," writes Chronicle reporter Paul Fain in one article.
One example, Fain notes, is the compensation package of Georgia State University president Carl V. Patton, who ranks No. 4 on the list. The reason his compensation is so high this year is that he will receive part of his $900,000 in deferred comp for serving 12 years in his post.
Why is the pay so high?
There are those who argue, much as they do in the corporate world, that the compensation for college and university leaders needs to attract highly qualified candidates and needs to reflect the increasing demands of the job. Indeed, some say, running a school these days is very much like running a for-profit company.
The University of Michigan system run by Coleman, for instance, has a $4.6 billion budget, 39,000 students on its main campus and 450,000 living alumni, according to the Chronicle.
Others reject the corporate-world analogy, preferring a political one instead, Fain writes, noting that some question whether college leaders should be paid more than the president of the United States. President Bush is paid $400,000.
Chronicle reporter Audrey Williams June notes that the entry of college presidents into the million-dollar club is bound to garner a lot of attention "as the federal government starts seeking the logic behind high pay for leaders of nonprofit organizations, faculty members call for salary caps and board members move to defend the amount they pay college executives."
See the Chronicle's list of the 10 most expensive colleges, and read about the latest trends in college costs.