BOSTON — Presidents at America's private universities saw their pay increase by 9 percent in 2015, according to a new report, with several of them topping $2 million in total earnings. The average chief received total compensation of nearly $570,000, including salary, bonuses and benefits, according to a survey of 500 schools released Sunday by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Among the highest earners were 10 who made more than $2 million, up from eight who crossed that mark the year before, while another 48 made at least $1 million.
Topping the list was Wake Forest University's Nathan Hatch, whose total pay of $4 million included a payment of nearly $3 million as a perk for leading the North Carolina school for 10 years.
Hatch's achievements in fundraising and other areas have been worth the investment, said Donna Boswell, head of the university's governing board. "President Hatch's compensation over the course of his tenure reflects his exceptional leadership," Boswell said in a statement, adding that Hatch has helped raise $795 million as part of an ongoing campaign.
Hatch was followed by Emory University's James Wagner, who received $3.5 million, and the University of Southern California's C.L. Max Nikias, with $3.2 million. Emory, in Georgia, said its president's pay is "consistent with that of other top university presidents in the nation, particularly those who lead major research universities."
The Chronicle's study is based on university tax filings for 2015, the latest year available. The publication's last study on private university presidents found that their pay grew by 8.6 percent in 2014. Figures for overall compensation include yearly salaries, medical insurance, retirement benefits and a variety of other perks from housing to cars provided by the schools.
Nine of the top 10 earners made most of their pay through bonuses and deferred-compensation plans, which provide one-time payments for reaching milestones. Boston University's Robert Brown, for example, was paid a base salary of $883,000 but made another $1 million for reaching 10 years at the helm.
The University of Dayton, in Ohio, similarly paid Daniel Curran nearly $1.7 million after he reached age 65, on top of his $611,000 salary. Curran retired from the university the following year. Dayton officials said deferred pay is commonly used "to attract, reward and retain high-quality leadership in a highly competitive environment."
Deferred pay also often launches schools into the upper tier of executive pay for just a year. Only the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago and Columbia University, in New York, ranked among the top 10 in 2014 and 2015.
The Chronicle's study found that the number of chiefs making more than $1 million was unusually high in 2015, jumping to 58 from 39 the year before. Authors of the report attribute the increase to a growing number of presidents who negotiate deferred-compensation deals and other bonus packages before accepting the jobs.
In a separate study in June, the Washington-based publication found that public university chiefs made an average of $501,000 in 2016, an uptick of 5.3 percent.