In response to the question George Birnbaum posed in his recent article, “Executive Compensation for College and University Presidents: Are They Really Overpaid?,” I would like to add my resounding no, and direct your attention to further support for our contention that presidential compensation is not to blame for the steep rise in college costs.
Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw speaks out about the high cost of higher education as a function of several factors, not one of which is presidential compensation. In his article “Three Reasons for Those Hefty College Tuition Bills,” Professor Mankiw first reaffirms the value of getting a college degree, and then goes on to attribute rising costs to how we teach and learn, the need for skilled and educated workers to educate the next generation, and increasing price discrimination. He concludes with a critique of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ and Republican candidate Marco Rubio’s respective proposals to finance higher education, and acknowledges that there are no easy answers.
Also of note is “Reining in College Costs,” a recent letter to the editor from Michael Poliakoff, VP of Policy for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Mr. Poliakoff blames rising costs on what he calls the “grotesque commodification of higher education.” On his hit list are the hidden tuition add-ons attributable to “slick deals” and partnerships with service providers, including dining vendors, and the “glitzy” renovation of buildings, which get passed along to students in the form of higher tuition.
The take-away from these two pieces is that supposedly over-generous presidential compensation packages are not the source of increasing tuition. But they could well be the remedy. It might be penny-wise, but would certainly be pound-foolish, to cut corners when it comes to attracting and retaining the sort of talent needed to control costs, trim fluff and raise and manage the money needed to educate the future workers, renovators and leaders of our country. All of this, while tackling a full panoply of academic, employment, social, Constitutional, and political issues, too. Increasingly, college and university presidents have one of the toughest jobs on the planet. They earn every cent they are so begrudgingly paid.