Technical explanations of the cost of a college education are well beyond my expertise but I am sure I understand at least a part of the story.
There are 371,164 persons on college campuses across the land. They are well paid because 31.7% of them are professors, 27.4% are associate professors, 25.1% are assistant professors and only 6.6% fill the low rank of instructor. 7.4% are lecturers and something called “No rank” make up the remaining 1.8%.
At so-called Category I colleges, average salary is $96,686 and the benefit package another $27,936. The latter refers to retirement contribution, medical insurance, disability income protection, social security, unemployment insurance, group life insurance, workers’ compensation premiums, tuition waivers for faculty dependents and, wherever required, moving expenses, housing, parking privileges, and cafeteria plans. Of course not all universities provide all of these and some provide very few of them. Still, we are concerned with averages. The total average compensation equals $124,924.
Dropping all the way down to Category IV, faculty in the above mentioned “no rank”, have salaries that average $62,523 and the benefit packages are, on average, $21,283. This is not bad at all, especially when you consider that professors make up 31.7% of all the faculty and Category IV “no rankers” comprise a mere 1.8% of the whole shebang. Associate professors across the categories (average compensation equals $93,105) are 29.2% of all faculty. So I believe they, along with their Big Brothers, the professors, (also called “full professors”), make a substantial impact on the cost of education. Thank goodness that each college has only one president or the economy would be bankrupt. (The distinction between “college” and “university” shrinks each year simply because more and more colleges prefer the prestigious label.) At Category I public colleges/universities, median salary for presidents is $400,000 and some of them top out over $1,100,000. Oddly, top salaries at Category IIA colleges where students earn only Master’s degrees, not Ph.D. degrees, some presidents reach ionospheric $1,680,000, challenging the football and basketball coaches as Big Guy On Campus.
What do presidents do to earn this kind of paycheck? The question has a built-in bias because it uses the word “earn” rather than “receive.” From the way the question is actually framed, the answer is obvious – NOT MUCH. The Peter Principle applies: “Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.” No place exemplifies this idea better than our “institutions of higher learning.”