Tuition hikes, college president salaries, and student debt. Oh my! – National Consumers League

By NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg

One recent piece of news suggests that college students and their parents are getting rolled. College students are borrowing like never before, while finding it harder than ever to land jobs.

College seniors who graduated in 2009 owed an average of $24,000 in student loan debt, up 6% from the year before, according to a report from the Project on Student Debt. At the same time, unemployment for recent college graduates jumped from 5.8% in 2008 to 8.7% in 2009—the highest annual rate on record.

In the meantime, the salaries of college presidents have soared to levels that are  – in a word – unconscionable. The Washington Post reported recently that three college presidents in the Washington area earn more than $1 million, and three more earn more than $750,000. Johns Hopkins president William Brody actually received a $3.8 million retirement package!  Kevin Manning of Stevenson University earned $1.5 million. The salary boom of these college presidents is in line with national trends: 36 college presidents nationwide earned $1 million or more in 2009.

Who pays for these outsized salaries? Sadly, college students and their parents. In the past decade, tuition for state students public four- year colleges and universities rose 54 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars — an average of 4.4 percent per year. Similarly, over the past decade, tuition for full-time students at private four-year colleges and universities rose 33 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars — an average of 2.9 percent per year.

I know many young people who have had to take out six figure loans to pay these high tuition costs; the ones who are lucky enough to have a job in today’s economy often don’t have a lot left over for student loans payments after covering their rent, food and utilities. There’s something just fundamentally wrong with the fact that today’s graduates are swimming in debt while college presidents are taking million dollar salaries out of the till.

I know, I know, there’s the familiar excuses – we have to pay this much for high quality presidents, they raise millions of dollars etc. I’m tired of these flaccid explanations – becoming a college President should be about dedication to the academy, to education, to learning and to turning out fine young men and women who have a strong academic—and hopefully liberal arts—grounding. Unfortunately, for people like William Brody of Johns Hopkins, greed has overtaken the higher principles. Being head of a college is now a path to lifelong riches and student and their families are paying the price. What a shame.