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Wealthy College Presidents May Be the Reason You’re Broke [infographic]

Topics: Current Events

A recent report released by the Institute for Policy Studies finds that student debt and low-wage faculty labor are rising faster at state universities with the highest-paid presidents. Usually those three hotly debated issues: student debt, increased use of part-time faculty, and inflated executive pay are discussed as separate issues, but researchers wondered if the three were related. What they found shows that all three are connected in ways worthy of a Charles Dickens novel.

(Photo Credit: Eleven Warriors/Flickr)

The study, titled The One Percent at State U: How Public University Presidents Profit from Rising Student Debt and Low-Wage Faculty Labor, looked at 25 public universities with the highest executive pay from fall 2005 to summer 2012.

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Co-authors of the study, Marjorie Wood and Andrew Erwin, found that as students went deeper into debt, administrative spending outstripped scholarship spending by more than two to one at state schools with the highest-paid presidents. The New York Times published an article on the study, in which Marjorie Wood explains the findings.

“The high executive pay obviously isn’t the direct cause of higher student debt, or cuts in labor spending,” Wood says. “But if you think about it in terms of the allocation of resources, it does seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases, and more administrative spending.”

Other key findings included a dramatic increase in part-time adjunct faculty and a dramatic decline in permanent faculty at the state schools with the highest-paid presidents. The average executive pay at those schools also rose to nearly $1 million by 2012, increasing more than twice as fast as the national average at public research universities.

Infographic of Key Findings:

highest paid university presidents

(Infographic: Institute for Policy Studies)

The report also includes a list of the top five most unequal public universities, in which Ohio State University was ranked as being the most unequal of all the schools surveyed. Ohio State paid its president $5.9 million from FY 2010 to FY 2012 while average student debt at the school rose by 49 percent from summer 2006 to summer 2012.

Other schools ranked as being most unequal included Penn State, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Delaware.

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Tavia Tindall
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CIt is disgusting that American universities uphold such greed. I don’t know what we can do to change it.  I wish these articles also had guidance on what we can do to make a difference. 



While this article raises a good point, I am very disappointed with the choice of using a (frankly unflattering) photo of E. Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University, in this article. For one, President Gee isn’t even listed in the infographic among the top 25 highest paid public college presidents. I do not know the income of those presidents, but President Gee collects about $775,000 from WVU. He actually took a pay cut from when he was President of… Read more »


Money is finite. We allow a select few to rake in the millions and billions, while the rest of us are forced to eat our young.  On a relevant tangent: Instead of revering the rich, we might try capping pay packages based upon revenues and lowest-paid worker salaries, then implement higher taxation for the extremely wealthy. But if we did that, we would have to give up on our myth that anybody can make it big and that rich people… Read more »

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