Community College Presidents: How Much Salary Is Too Much?


I didn't have space in my column today to include some comments by John Curtis, director of research and public policy for the American Association of University Professors.  I'd called to ask him whether the $274,000 salary of Stephen Curtis (no relation, I presume ...), president of Community College of Philadelphia, was out of whack with what other community-college presidents earn.

I asked because AFT Local 2026, which represents faculty and some blue- and white-collar staffers at CCP, have made the point that Curtis makes more than Mayor Nutter ($170,935) and Gov. Corbett ($174,900) earn.

Researcher John Curtis said that, according to a recent survey conducted by his organization, the compensation of public community-college presidents range from $81,000 to $390,000, not including extra benefits for housing and car expenses.  The size of the salary is influenced by the size of the school, its location and the number of its students and employees.

The $274,000 earned by CCP's President Curtis includes about $35,000 in car and housing stipends, so his base salary is about $240,000. Given the school's size (37,000 students and 2,000 staff) and Curtis' tenure at CCP (13 years), his compensation appears to fall slightly above the mid-level of what public community-college presidents earn natiowide.

The AAUP's Curtis (too many Curtises here!) pointed out that , nationwide, college administrator's salaries rise at a faster rate than do the salaries of faculty.

"Even during recession, administrators still saw more frequent pay increases then their faculty did," he said.  

"Usually, the justification given is that the president is the CEO of a multi-faceted organization and that the jobs gets more complex as the organization gets larger. The problem with that, from a philosophical perspective, is that colleges have had a long tradition of shared governance.

"The administration, faculty, students and members of the community have shared in the decision-making, working in a collaborative way to determine priorities, the nature of the institution and how resources will be allocated.   

"This new idea that the coollege president is like a CEO is a much more corporate and managerial approach to decision-making. It tends to centralize authority in one  individual. That's a change from the traditional."

He sees this as problematic because we've created a separate management track for administration, in colleges where faculty members used to take on administrative roles for a few years - becoming "scholar administrators" who were focused on the core mission of academics: teaching and research, the core of what college is supposed to be all about.

"But we have now the emergence of this managerial class, more concerned with their own careers, who will be instituting programs or vanity projects that are, in many cases, about making a big splash. And that's not what is best for the college or the community."

"So it becomes a question of priorities. Do we pay top dollar to a handful of senior administrators? Or do we invest it in the academic mission of the college?"

Lots to chew on, obviously. I'd be interested to hear everyone's thoughts.