Is Any University President Worth $42 Million Dollars?

Last Updated Nov 10, 2010 8:42 PM EST

How much should someone who is responsible for a chain of colleges get paid?
Does $41.9 million dollars sound about right?

According to Bloomberg, that's what Robert Silberman, the chair and chief executive officer of Strayer Education Inc., a chain of for-profit colleges, pocketed last year.

The for-profit colleges that Silberman oversees enroll roughly 54,000 students, which is the same number of students as Ohio State University. Gordon Gee, Ohio State's president, whom Time Magazine named one of the nation's 10 best college president in 2009, is the highest paid president of any public university. Gee's salary and compensation exceeds $1 million.

$114,794-a-Day Pay???

Silberman's pay is about 42 times greater than Ohio State's president. I'm not sure what's more galling, Silberman's $114,794-a-day compensation last year or the fact that he must surely believe that he deserves the money. And the Strayer CEO's pay is not an apparition among for-profit schools. Bloomberg reports that top executives at 15 publicly traded for-profit colleges, including Apollo Group, DeVry Inc. and Education Management Corp. pulled in $2 billion dollars in the past seven years thanks to selling shares of their stock.

To earn this unfathomable salaries, you might assume that these for-profit chains are doing a boffo job of graduating their students. But you'd be wrong. For-profit schools have the worst loan default rates and the worst student drop-out rates in the higher-ed world.

CEO Greed and Taxpayers Pain

What makes this case different from other CEO greed stories is this: these executives and their companies are getting rich off taxpayer money. The for-profit schools receive as much as 90% of their revenue from federal financial aid money. Without taxpayer money, I don't see how these schools could exist.

"For-profit colleges are reaching into the public trough to finance luxurious lifestyles at the expense of people who are going to have to pay back loans," observed Henry Levin, director of Columbia University's National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education in a Bloomberg Interview.

The miserable track record of these schools -- and the executive avarice -- makes it imperative that the Obama administration's proposed rules to cut off federal financial aid to for-profits whose students leave with highest student debt and the worst track records of repaying it becomes a reality.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog.
Ohio State University image by parudox. CC 2.0.