As salaries of presidents soar, Mac is below peers

By Eliot Brown

As compensation for college presidents soars nationally, President Brian Rosenberg’s salary was just above the average for all liberal arts colleges in 2003-2004 at a base salary of $233,333, and $283,912 after benefits. Among similar competitive liberal arts colleges in 2003-2004, however, Macalester had one of the lower presidential salaries. Carleton paid their president, Robert A. Oden Jr. $427,073; Oberlin College paid Nancy S. Dye $458,382; and Grinnell, with an endowment of over $1 billion, paid Russell K. Osgood $508,795, all including benefits.

These numbers are reported from a Chronicle of Higher Education survey released this week. According to the survey, compensation for college presidents nationally has risen in recent years, including the 2003-2004 academic year.

While Macalester’s compensation is not yet at the half-million dollar level, it still has been rising beyond inflation and other salaries around the college for years.

Between the 1997-1998 and 2003-2004, the salaries including benefits for all faculty and instructors went up just 19.3 percent, according to data from institutional research. Rosenberg’s 2003-2004 salary was 39 percent higher than that of his predecessor, Michael McPherson’s in 1997-1998.

While Rosenberg’s starting salary was significantly lower than the ending salary of McPherson, who took in $363,117 in 2002-2003 including benefits, McPherson’s salary was up 78 percent from the 1997-1998 year, when he received $203,814 including benefits.

If the trend continues, Rosenberg’s salary, which is set by the Board of Trustees, is sure to rise in coming years, especially if similar institutions continue to fund salary increases.

There are a number of other factors contributing to the rise in presidential compensation, including a general rise in college spending and a changing role for the college president.

Jeffrey Selingo, business and politics editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education, said that among liberal arts colleges, salaries are set with careful attention paid to compensation at other schools in order to retain the current presidents. “If [a college] feels they don’t want to lose that person, they’re going to keep an eye on other institutions,” he said.

In what many term an “arms race,” colleges across the country push forward with better, more expensive student centers and other buildings, adding facilities such as six-lane indoor tracks that were not seen as necessities to colleges decades ago, but are now considered nearly essential.

These added expenditures, along with other factors, have helped drive up the cost of education, placing the college president in charge of expansive and increasingly expensive institutions.

Many also point to the changing role of the college president, as presidents typically devote increasingly more time to fundraising, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education survey released in early November.

For a number of larger schools, where the net worth of the college’s endowment and facilities is far greater than that of Macalester, presidential compensation has reached CEO-level proportions. In 2002-2003, five college presidents received over $1 million in compensation, with many more closing in on the mark.