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Study: 30 private college presidents made more than $1 million

A study shows that high-end compensation for private college presidents is increasing. In 2004, no presidents made $1 million or more. In 2008, 30 did.

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Parents struggling with high tuition bills might be fuming when they look at the list of the top-paid presidents of private colleges and universities.

The annual analysis of tax records by the Chronicle of Higher Education found 30 top executives – out of the 448 institutions the Chronicle surveyed – received a total compensation of more than $1 million in 2008. More than 20 percent had a compensation package that exceeded $600,000.

And it’s a trend that seems to be heading upward: Just four years earlier, not a single college president in the Chronicle’s survey had received more than $1 million.

Still, context matters, and many of the top earners have special circumstances.

Take Bernard Lander, a Jewish rabbi who founded Touro College in New York in 1970. He topped the list with a total compensation of nearly $4.8 million, but nearly all of that was due to trustees’ decision to award him a large package of retroactive pay and retirement benefits to make up for years of underpayment. Mr. Lander actually died in February.

Other presidents got large retirement settlements or appeared to make more due to unusual circumstances: One cashed out a life-insurance policy and bought a private policy; another was reimbursed for renovations to the president’s house.

But pay is clearly headed upwards. While it’s impossible to compare perfectly to previous years, since the IRS changed its reporting rules (the data now covers compensation over the fiscal, rather than the calendar, year), in the last Chronicle survey 23 presidents were over the $1 million mark.

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