Economists often calculate the income disparities between companies’ CEOs and their average workers with ratios, expressing concern when the gaps grow too wide. For example, a recent report from Glassdoor, a labor-market research firm, found that Chipotle CEO Steve Ellis earned $29 million total in 2014, while the median worker serving those yummy burrito bowls earned just $19,000. That would make the median CEO-to-worker pay ratio at Chipotle 1,522 to one.
Data on the salaries of college faculty and administrators is scattered and incomplete, making apples-to-apples comparisons difficult. Still, it’s possible to get a rough sense of how they compare—an important indication of a given higher-education institution’s fiscal priorities—based on the same calculation. While income inequality in higher education isn’t as high as Chipotle, it does rival that of other publicly traded corporations, including Nike, IBM, and Motorola.
Data on the “CEOs” in higher education—college presidents—is taken from The Chronicle of Higher Education, which regularly publishes comprehensive data on the total compensation of the country’s private- and public-college presidents. This data is often more helpful than what’s published in official reports because it includes other forms of compensation on top of base salaries, generous extras like housing, dependent care, club dues, meals, legal services, and transportation. According to a recent analysis by the Chronicle, the median salary for public-college presidents rose 7 percent between the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years, to $428,000. With a salary of $1.4 million, the former Pennsylvania State University head Rodney A. Erickson was the highest-earning public-college president in 2014. Meanwhile, based on figures reported in separate sets of federal filings, it’s often much higher in at private institutions. The Chronicle found that the highest-paid private-college head in 2012 was Shirley Ann Jackson, of the Troy, New York, research university Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who took home $7 million that year.