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TribBlog: Paycheck U.

A new study gives a window into the wide variety of ways college presidents get paid. Think houses, cars, deferred comp — and private monies supplementing public funds.

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For college chancellors and presidents, the "salary" is often just the beginning of the haul, which can include free cars and houses and deferred compensation packages the size of a salary in themselves, according to a new study by the Chronicle of Higher Education. And different schools in Texas take different strategies to finance the executive packages, with some, particularly schools in the University of Texas system, relying heavily on private dollars.  

The Chronicle’s nationwide sampling didn’t include every institution head, but rather a select 185 university and system chiefs and 69 community college and system leaders, chosen by its own criteria. That included 20 institutions from Texas. Though not a comprehensive take on executive pay, it nonetheless gives an interesting window into the wide variety of methods used to put those packages together. 

Texas A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney, for instance, hauls in a $150,000 deferred compensation payment in addition to his $533,816 salary. University of Houston System chief Renu Khator gets the same deferred comp payment added to her $425,000 base pay. Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance gets $129,000 in deferred comp added to his $420,240. Meanwhile, about half the executives in the study got housing and car allowances — or, in five of those cases, "one house provided by the state" — while the other half got no such shelter or transportation. 

Not surprisingly, the University of Texas System paid some of the highest compensation packages, but chose to finance most of them with private funds. Each university chief makes just $65,945 in public funds; the system's chancellor makes just $70,231. The rest of the comp — totaling some $2.3 million among the five executives in the study — comes from endowments of private donations, said system spokesman Matt Flores. 

That’s because the Legislature, in a rider to the appropriations bill, has limited the amount of state funds that can finance executive pay to those amounts, Flores said. Universities are free under the law to use a portion of tuition revenues to pay for the rest, but the UT system chooses instead to use private money, he said. The UT system also chose to pay the leaders mostly in straight salary, with no house or car packages and only comparatively modest deferred compensation and retirement benefits. 

Among the 20 college execs in the study, the lowest salary was the $260,186, for Richard Rhodes at El Paso Community College, and the highest was the $787,258 for Francisco G. Cigarroa, president of the UT System. Cigarroa’s salary ranked 5th in the nation, behind the leaders of Ohio State University ($1,576,825), the University of Washington-Seattle ($905,004), the University of Delaware-Wilmington ($810,603), and the University of Virginia-Charlottesville ($797,048).

Nationally, pay for college execs has largely stagnated, likely due to the sagging economy and political backlash to increasingly lavish pay packages in previous years, the Chronicle concluded.

“The year’s survey results are a break from a five-year pattern: Steadily rising pay packages of public university presidents riled parents, students and politicians, especially as tuition increases also had been hefty from year to year,” Jeffrey Selingo, editor of the publication, is quoted as saying in a news release. “We can assume the bad economy and the fiscal crisis facing many states is what finally put a halt to these large pay increases.”

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