College Execs have Private Jets? New Report Finds Public University Presidents Live Large

While college students struggle to afford an education, public university presidents are making big bucks.

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A new report released by The Chronicle of Higher Educationon Monday revealed that public university presidents in the U.S. are doing quite well financially.

The report lists public university presidents’ compensation for the 2012 fiscal year.  Graham Spanier, former president of Penn State University, who was forced out after his handling of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse tragedy, topped the list by bringing in $2.9 million. This includes a base pay of nearly $351,000, a deferred pay of $1.2 million and a severance package of $1.2 million.

Jack Stripling, the Chroniclereporter who worked on the survey, told The New York Times: “The fact that Graham Spanier turns out to be the highest paid president in the country says something about the nature of compensation packages for people who leave under a cloud. … Severance agreements are often very lucrative.”

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Following Spanier, Jay Gogue of Auburn University had a compensation package of $2.5 million, and E. Gordon Gee of Ohio State University $1.9 million. Gee received the highest base pay of all the public university presidents at $830,439. The New York Timesreported that Gee enjoys a “lavish lifestyle,” which includes “a rent-free mansion with an elevator, a pool and a tennis court and flights on private jets.”

Stripling told the Timesthat public university presidents have seen much growth in their compensation packages over the years. The $600,000 to $700,000 compensation package range saw the highest growth, as it included 28 presidents in 2012 — up from 13 in 2011.

An increase in deferred compensation also accounts for some of the compensation package growth, as Gogue’s compensation, for instance, went from $720,000 to $2.5 million in one year after completing a five-year contract.

Overall, the median compensation package in 2012 was $441,392 — up 4.7 percent from 2011’s $421,395. The median base salary in 2012 was $373,800 — up 2 percent from 2011’s $366,519.

Meanwhile, for students, life is quite far from lavish. The median student loan debt in the U.S. is $13,600, with the average being $24,301. In total, the amount of student loan debt owed in the U.S. is $1 trillion. Funding for public universities has been cut by about 28 percent since 2008, while the cost of attending one has more than doubled since 1988. Come July 1, the interest rates on subsidized federal Stafford loans are set to double — from 3.4 to 6.8 percent — if Congress doesn’t take action.

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.