January 31, 2010 in City

Salaries soared at regional universities

Pay for top positions rose sharply from 2007 to 2009, analysis finds
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Raises have been scarce and budget cuts common at colleges dealing with the fallout from the worst state budget in memory.

But between January 2007 and January 2009, the largest paychecks at Washington State University got quite a bit larger. In that period, the money spent at the very top of the pay scale rose by nearly 23 percent, more than three times the typical salary increase at WSU and well above inflation and average wage increases nationally.

If you omit the salary increase granted when President Elson Floyd was hired in 2007, the rise was 18 percent among the top salaries. The top tier of salaries at Eastern Washington University, meanwhile, grew by 11 percent. At the Community Colleges of Spokane, it was 7 percent, directly in line with the average state-funded pay raise.

Meanwhile, students saw their tuition bills shoot up – at WSU, tuition rose 14 percent from 2007 to 2009. It rose another 14 percent this year, and will go up by that amount again next year. Lawmakers are starting to work on another brutal budget now, and the smart money is on more tuition hikes.

Comparing top salaries at colleges over a two-year period is difficult. People are promoted; administrative jobs are combined or eliminated; new people are hired and others leave. Further, state salary databases, while available to the public, are difficult to decipher and sort for the purposes of comparison.

The Spokesman-Review analyzed state budget data to identify the top 20 positions from 2007 and 2009, taken as a total expense, and compared the change.

In 2007, some $4.4 million was directed to the top 20 salaries at WSU. In 2009, that figure was more than $5.4 million – not including nearly half a million paid to former football coach Bill Doba under his contract.

The raises came before the state’s budget collapse, when funding was at robust levels. This year, with budget cuts of more than 10 percent, top WSU administrators chose to give back 5 percent of their pay, which helped preserve some jobs, said Tim Pavish, vice president of university relations. Floyd was scheduled for a 21 percent raise, but he gave back $100,000.

Pavish said the university pays its administrators comparably with other schools of its size and has taken steps in recent years to combine some administrative positions, which accounts for some of the increases for administrators whose duties expanded. In most cases, the raises were to recruit or keep top people, WSU said.

“The salaries did go up at a higher level than the 7 percent that was allocated by the state” for 2007-’08, he said. “But there are a lot of other factors that were included in making the decisions about what people were being paid.”

At Eastern, the top of the scale grew by less than half the rate it did at WSU. President Rodolfo Arevalo said that, for administrators in the same positions during those years, the average pay raise was 7 percent. The increase came from new hires being paid more at market rates, along with some other special circumstances.

He said EWU has focused on bringing down costs – recently announcing a consolidation of colleges, for example – and will keep doing that moving forward.

“We are going to continue to pursue a hiring freeze, continue to pursue a reduction in spending in overall operations and travel,” he said.

‘Above the average’

Pavish said the changes in WSU top salaries are not as dramatic as they might appear, if you consider the state raise of 7 percent, and factor in the 5 percent giveback.

“I feel we’re being prudent with the resources entrusted to us,” he said.

The explanations don’t provide much comfort for critics who see a tendency to reward top administrators more than everyone else.

Gary Collins, a physics professor and member of the faculty senate at WSU, noted that when you figure in inflation for those years, the growth at the top is even more disproportionate. The Consumer Price Index for the two years was a total of roughly 4 percent. That means the top of the pay scale, calculated for inflation, grew by 19 percent, while the average was 3 percent.

“It is enormous,” he said of the difference. “These salary increases are wildly above the average.”

Complaints about high administrative salaries are common on campuses. It’s become an even bigger issue over the past couple of decades, as presidential salaries in particular have risen far more rapidly than everyone else’s. Rising salaries are often justified on the basis of market forces – if schools want to be competitive and hire the best people, officials say, they have to pay salaries in line with other institutions.

Until last year, annual pay increases of 10 percent were common among the presidents of public universities, according to surveys by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The increases were so dramatic that last year’s average presidential raise of 2.3 percent – in a year when many workers would have been happy for any raise at all – were strikingly small.

Collins, who worked on a salary study at WSU produced in 2007, said the change among the top salaries at the school didn’t come as a surprise to him.

“It’s the common perception,” he said.

College and university salaries generally are among the highest in state government. The top 100 higher education salaries dwarf those of the rest of state employees.

Among the top-paid 100 state employees who don’t work at a college, six earned more than $200,000. The 100th-highest salary in higher ed, meanwhile, was $248,000. Gov. Chris Gregoire, who makes $166,000, wouldn’t even make the list.

It’s not simply administrators earning top salaries. Top researchers in key fields, who often bring in big grants, are among the best paid. Roughly 350 WSU employees earn more than $100,000 annually.

Of course, what constitutes a high salary changes by institution – the research schools pay more, and regional universities pay less.

At UW, 33 people earn $300,000 or more, from administrators to coaches to top researchers. At WSU, three people top $300,000.

At EWU, Arevalo’s is the only salary above $200,000.

‘Competitive enterprise’

Pavish said salaries alone don’t paint the full picture. Several top administrative positions have been doubled up in recent years, which accounts for some of the salary increases but also some savings. For example, Greg Royer, vice president of business and finance, saw a 36 percent raise over that time; Pavish said his oversight responsibilities were expanded by hundreds of employees and millions of dollars.

Some new positions have been created, though. Vice President John Gardner, who worked with Floyd at the University of Missouri, came in as vice president of economic development – a new position that was part of Floyd’s push to see WSU contribute to the state’s economy. It pays $270,000.

Pavish said WSU salaries are in line with its “peer institutions,” and notes that just 12 of the top 100 higher ed salaries in the state are WSU employees. (The list puts Floyd at the top with $625,000; the more comprehensive Chronicle of Higher Education report, which includes all sources of reimbursement and not just state salary, places UW President Mark Emmert as the second-highest-paid public college president in the nation, at $905,000.)

UW dominates the list of top higher ed salaries. The provost at UW earned $409,896; at WSU, Provost Warwick Bayly earns $300,000. Two assistant football coaches at UW earn more than WSU’s key vice presidents.

WSU spokesman James Tinney said that the current WSU administration has excelled at raising money for the school – which is increasingly important, because state funding has not kept pace with rising costs for years. The state now covers about 26 percent of WSU’s $800 million budget.

In the past three years, WSU fundraising efforts have skyrocketed beyond past years, bringing in more than $340 million.

“I think we’re being competitive and attracting the kind of talented people that we need to operate the university, and it is a very competitive enterprise,” Pavish said. “There’s a lot of work to be done to manage an operation that’s this large and this complex.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


There are 10 comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email