Pay for private college presidents on the rise, including in Michigan

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Salaries of the presidents of four private colleges in Michigan.

Chronicle of Higher Education

Salaries of the presidents of four private colleges in Michigan.

Capital News Service 

LANSING — The presidents of Michigan’s largest private colleges and universities are making more than ever as faculty salaries stall and tuition climbs, according to a newly released analysis.

The data comes from a report published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which cites the schools’ nonprofit tax filings for 2021, the most recent available year.

The analysis provides information on presidential pay at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Hope College in Holland, University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit and Western Michigan University’s private Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in Kalamazoo. 

They received between $1,137,144 and $306,993. On average, their 2021 total compensation was 6% higher than in the previous year.

Nationally, salaries in the analysis ranged from $22 million at the University of Pennsylvania to $0 at some religious universities where presidents opted not to be compensated.

Michigan’s other private universities and colleges were not included as they either reported less than $100 million in revenue or didn’t file the relevant tax forms. Baker College, which is above the $100 million threshold, was the only one listed without its presidential salary. It has campuses in Jackson, Muskegon, Owosso, Cadillac and Royal Oak.

At the University of Detroit Mercy, now-former president Antoine Garibaldi made $762,275 in 2021, a 14.3% increase from 2020.

That’s a much larger raise than faculty can expect to receive even over multiple years, said Heather Hill, an English professor and president of the faculty union at Detroit Mercy.

“Most faculty would probably find that discrepancy kind of disconcerting,” she said. “There is a general feeling that administrators make more money and get bigger raises than the faculty do, which is unfortunate because the faculty are at the heart of that institution.”

Generous compensation feeds into a “frustrating” feeling among faculty that the university puts a priority on administrative functions and donor solicitations over teaching and research, Hill said.

“There’s a new individualistic, consumerist approach to higher education that may be encouraging colleges to hire people that can make the most money,” she said.

Detroit Mercy isn’t alone, said Judith Wilde, a professor who studies higher education at George Mason University in Virginia.

Nationally, college presidential salaries have largely outpaced inflation while professor salaries have barely kept up with it, according to a study Wilde conducted.

Three major factors are driving that, she said.

First, the list published by the Chronicle of Higher Education each year has in itself made presidential compensation more competitive, she said.

“If I’m a president, I can look at (the Chronicle) and say, ‘Gee wiz, somebody at a school the size of mine is making $2 million and I’m getting $1.5 million,’” Wilde said. “They’ll think they should be up there too.”

Second, the contracts given to presidents have also become more complex with the recent emergence of attorneys who specialize in designing and negotiating them, Wilde said.

A third reason is how colleges compensate the search firms that find presidents, Wilde said.

Executive search firms are used to solicit and screen applications in 92% of modern college presidential searches, according to Wilde’s research.

The firm’s fees are often scaled as a percentage of the chosen candidate’s first-year compensation. Wilde believes that motivates the firms to favor the most expensive candidates, in hopes of inflating their payouts.

The rise in presidential salaries comes amid increases to tuition nationwide and at Michigan schools.

Hope College, however, does have “anchored tuition,” meaning that even when the college increases tuition, students pay the same rate from the start of their degree until completion.

“Anchored tuition means that the tuition rate you start with is the tuition rate you end with,” Hope President Matthew Scogin said in a news release announcing the plan in 2022.

Scogin made $306,993 in 2021. That’s up 1.2% from 2020, the smallest of any of the Michigan presidents in the Chronicle of Higher Education analysis.

That’s supposedly intentional, said Hope senior and student body president Kate Kalthoff.

“He was talking to me one time,” she said of Scogin, “and he said, ‘It would feel really hypocritical to say, ‘I want Hope to eventually be a free or affordable college,’ while taking some of that money for myself,” she said.

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