Some Presidents Got Raises

April 1, 2010

During the last year, many college presidents -- frequently as a prelude to employee salary freezes (or cuts) -- announced that they were freezing or cutting their own salaries. While such announcements became common, it turns out that a notable minority of private college presidents did receive raises, some of them healthy ones for a year of little inflation.

Twenty-six percent of presidents of independent colleges received raises of at least 4 percent. That's a larger figure than those who cut their salaries (14 percent), according to a national survey by Yaffe and Company, which released highlights on Wednesday. Yaffe consults with colleges on executive compensation, but the sample for the survey was random (among private colleges) and did not tilt toward the company's clients. Most of the private colleges in the survey -- like most private colleges generally -- were not institutions with billion-dollar endowments.

Here are the summary figures:

Private College Presidential Salary Changes in 2009-10

Reduced 14%
Froze 43%
Increased less than 4% 18%
Increased 4-6.9% 15%
Increased 7-9.9% 6%
Increased by at least 10% 4%

The survey only tracked raises for presidents who were in the position last year and this year. Colleges were promised confidentiality, so no individual salaries were released.

Rian Yaffe, CEO of the company that conducted the research, said that despite all the publicity about presidents freezing or cutting their salaries, he was not surprised that many (more quietly) didn't do so.

Yaffe noted that while presidents may propose a salary freeze or cut for themselves, trustees "are reluctant unless it's a real crisis situation."

Some of the larger percentage-increase raises, he said, come at colleges where a president has finished a first contract of three or four years, and the board wants to send a message of confidence now that the chief executive "is no longer a novice president."

Board members, he said, are more likely to worry about losing a good president than about spending a little more. "There is a lot of competition for high-performance presidents, so board members feel that they have a fiduciary responsibility to attract and retain them."

And while Yaffe acknowledged that some of the larger raises will probably be controversial, he said that does not deter trustees. He is currently working with a college he declined to name where the president turned down a raise last year and where the board is providing an increase in compensation of one third. In such cases, he said, there isn't much fear about controversy when the details emerge. Many trustees feel, he said, that "if someone is going to complain about a $250,000 salary, they are also going to complain about a $230,000 salary."

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