College presidents should receive competitive pay for the work they do. But it’s hard to determine how much is too much — or, put another way, when a university’s trustees are going overboard in lavishing money and perks on the president. Well-established universities tend to justify raising the salaries of their chief executives based on their fat endowments and generous fund-raising numbers. Up-and-coming universities often reward their presidents for jumps in their annual rankings. But even less-respected institutions can justify paying through the teeth for a top manager based on their need for quick improvement.
Unfortunately, it all adds up to higher-than-inflation raises for private college and university heads, while students are getting buried under increasing debt. The link between the president’s compensation and tuition is tenuous at best, but in a time of great student anxiety over finances, colleges and universities must show restraint.