How Well Paid Are Christian College Presidents?

About six months ago I explored the question, “How Well Paid Are Christian College Faculty?“, and found that “even the best of the evangelical college set can struggle to keep up with their self-defined peers” when it comes to paying professors.

Is the same true of our bosses?

Chronicle of Higher Education LogoOn Sunday the Chronicle of Higher Education made available data related to the compensation of 550 presidents serving the 500 private colleges and universities in the United States with the largest endowments reported to the Department of Education. (More presidents than schools because some executives served only part of 2011, the most recent year for which tax return data were available.) By my count 39 presidents of member-institutions in the evangelical Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) were included — 7.1% of the Chronicle set and one-third of the CCCU.

The median CCCU president in the report earned $297,543 — about $82,000 less than the median for the entire set of 550. Indeed, only seven were in the top half of earners: (I’m going by total compensation, not just base bay)

School

President

Total Compensation

Rank

Dallas Baptist

Gary R. Cook

$763,944

74

Lipscomb

L. Randolph Lowry III

$481,142

189

Union

David S. Dockery

$460,333

207

Seattle Pacific

Philip W. Eaton

$438,407

234

Mary Hardin-Baylor

Randy G. O’Rear

$425,624

233

Biola

Barry H. Corey

$417,377

238

Azusa Pacific

Jon R. Wallace

$381,270

271

Since, all things being equal, we’d expect more than twice that many names above the median, it might seem that the presidents of evangelical colleges and universities are less well-paid than those of  nonsectarian or other religious institutions. But keep in mind that this list of schools includes everything from major research universities to small liberal arts colleges (and at least two dozen Catholic schools that are recorded as paying their presidents $0, since any salary is given to that person’s religious order rather then individual her- or himself).

The Chronicle assigns each college or university a comparison group of 10-12 peers sharing similar institutional characteristics (though not necessarily religion), student demographics, and financial profiles. Here’s how each of the seven highest-paid CCCU executives fares in those comparisons:

School President Total Compensation Rank in Comparison Group
Dallas Baptist

Gary R. Cook

$763,944

#1 of 12

Lipscomb

L. Randolph Lowry III

$481,142

#5 of 11

Union

David S. Dockery

$460,333

#3 of 12

Seattle Pacific

Philip W. Eaton

$438,407

#3 of 11

Mary Hardin-Baylor

Randy G. O’Rear

$425,624

#3 of 13

Biola

Barry H. Corey

$417,377

#5 of 12

Azusa Pacific

Jon R. Wallace

$381,270

#9 of 13

For the record, my own boss, Jay Barnes of Bethel University, does not appear in the 2011 data because — as noted previously — Bethel’s endowment is rather undersized. In 2010, when the Chronicle selected private colleges and universities with at least $50 million in expenditures, Jay came in at #366 out of 494 — side by side with Alan Cureton of Northwestern, our CCCU peer down Snelling Avenue, and behind eight other Minnesota private college presidents.)

Perhaps a better way to answer our question is to consider another column in the Chronicle table: presidential compensation per million dollars of total expenditures. (It can sound ridiculous that in 2011 the president of my graduate alma mater received over $1.6 million in total compensation — until you realize that of every $1 million spent by Yale, $616 went into Richard Levin’s pocket. And two of his employees made more than he did!) And here the story is quite different:

  • Two-thirds of the CCCU presidents in the table are in the top 50%
  • The CCCU median ($5,858) is higher than the overall median ($5,466)
  • Seven CCCU presidents make the Chronicle top 100 when their compensation is expressed as a share of expenditures
School

President

Compensation per $1 million of expenditures

Rank

Howard Payne

William Ellis

$11,447

43

East Texas Baptist

Samuel W. Oliver

$11,052

48

Dallas Baptist

Gary R. Cook

$10,823

51

Erskine

David Norman

$10,520

60

Anderson (SC)

Evans P. Whitaker

$10,452

62

Northwestern (IA)

Gregory E. Christy

$10,360

66

Louisiana College

Joe W. Aguillard

$9,679

79

Dr. Gary R. Cook, president of Dallas Baptist University
Dr. Gary Cook, the highest-paid CCCU president in the Chronicle survey – Dallas Baptist University

Strikingly, of the twenty-six men and women in the top 50% by this standard, nearly half (12) preside over schools associated with the Southern Baptist Convention(Please see the comment below from one Baptist in Texas explaining why “associated with the Southern Baptist Convention” is a problematic labeling on my part.) In addition to Howard Payne, East Texas Baptist, Dallas Baptist, Anderson, and Louisiana College on the table above, Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Union, Oklahoma Baptist, Carson-Newman, Houston Baptist, and Mississippi College make that list.

None of the thirteen schools below the median has such a religious affiliation, and if you remove the Southern Baptist schools, the CCCU median drops by 15%, to $4,985 of presidential compensation per million dollars of expenditures.

On the larger question of whether college and university presidents are paid appropriately, see Jack Stripling’s related article in the Chronicle. Julia Ryan defended such compensation for The Atlantic yesterday: “…these men and women are making big money running private universities, and students struggling to pay for textbooks might be frustrated by the substantial cash flow to their school’s chief executive officer. At the same time, most university presidents could be making a lot more money running companies in the private sector. If universities are going to increase financial aid dollars, embrace new educational methods, and improve graduation rates, they need a capable, smart, and, yes, well-compensated president at the helm.”


8 thoughts on “How Well Paid Are Christian College Presidents?

  1. This is perhaps a minor point–but not to one (like me) deeply embedded in the aftermath of the “Baptist battles” of the 1970s through the 1990s. The colleges and universities you mention as “Southern Baptist related” are mostly not. Let me explain. The Baptist General Convention of Texas has seven or eight (don’t ask me to explain that “or”) related colleges and universities–Baylor, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Eastern Texas Baptist, Dallas Baptist, Hardin-Simmons, Wayland, Houston Baptist and Baptist University of Americas. None are really “Southern Baptist related” as the BGCT is now a separate denomination and no longer part of the SBC. The SBC now has its own state convention called “Southern Baptists of Texas.” So far, to the best of my knowledge, it has no officially related colleges or universities. Some of the other colleges and universities you mention as “Southern Baptist” have officially separated themselves from the SBC. Also, technically, all these colleges and universities were and are officially related to Baptist state conventions–not the SBC itself which officially controls only six seminaries. Many state Baptist conventions in the South have split–into one no longer affiliated with the SBC and one officially affiliated with the SBC. What makes a church or other organization/institution “Southern Baptist” is complicated. For example, the church of which I am a member is definitely not SBC related. If we sent messengers (delegates) to the Southern Baptist Convention they would be rejected (denied credentials to vote). That’s because we have women deacons and have had a woman pastor (and do have a woman associate pastor). However, the Southern Baptist Convention still consider us one of “their churches.” How can that be? Well, because when the SBC counts its churches and its members (allegedly 16 million) it simply counts all the churches affliated with local Baptist associations. The Waco Baptist Association includes Southern Baptist and non-Southern Baptist churches. It also includes a few churches that aren’t even Baptist! (Go figure.) But the SBC counts as “its” churches all 125 plus of them! I am among the alleged 16 million members of the SBC (so far as the SBC is concerned) ONLY because I am a member of a church the SBC counts as its own even though we do not consider ourselves Southern Baptist. We are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist General Convention of Texas. Does any of this make sense? No? Well…there you go. That’s the situation and why almost nobody really understands it. 🙂
    Roger

    1. Not a minor point at all, Roger. I actually took at shot at explaining this myself in an earlier draft, then realized that I was in over my head. So thanks for offering a more informed, inside take. 🙂 I used “associated with” in the very vague sense that if you’re a Southern Baptist and go to the SBC website looking for colleges and universities, you’ll find all of these schools listed. I can certainly see why you’d like to draw the distinction more finely. For the purposes of this sketch, I simply found it noteworthy that so many of the schools that devote more of their budget to paying their chief executive happened to be Baptist and Southern (if not “Southern Baptist”). I’ll leave it to someone more knowledgeable to dismiss that as a coincidence, or to pick it up and explain why there’s actually a causal connection.

  2. My grandmother was a die-hard Methodist (she thought Jesus was a Methodist). She use to call Baptists (all of them) “swarmers”. The diatribes above convince me she was correct.

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