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Understanding presidential compensation at Rollins

In an ongoing effort to understand compensation practices at Rollins, The Sandspur looked at how presidential  and faculty wages compare to those at peer institutions. 

An analysis of financial data from Rollins and The Chronicle of Higher Education revealed that President Grant Cornwell’s compensation for 2019 was $709,540. This makes Rollins’ presidential compensation ratio 7:1 compared to full-time faculty compensation, which averaged $103,177 in 2019.

To get a clear picture of how these financial decisions were made, The Sandspur sat with Provost Susan Singer and Vice President of Finance Ed Kania. 

Kania said that “there is always some market comparison against comparable positions, and generally against peer institutions.” Peer institutions are selected by a college to compare institutional data.

Data such as acceptance rates, graduation rates, and tuition can all be compared. Additionally, the comparison of these institutions can often be used to compare data on credit hours or compensation packages. A breakdown of Rollins’ peer institutions can be found using this database

Experience also plays a role in compensation.

“Someone who’s been a [vice president] for two years and gets hired here is going to get paid less than someone who’s been a VP for 10 years,” Kania said.

A notable difference in how compensation is determined is the Faculty Compensation Philosophy — a set of procedures agreed upon by faculty that helps standardize pay for professors upon hiring based on experience, with exceptions being made for market-driven fields of business, computer science, and economics.

Compensation for Cornwell is decided by the Trustee Compensation Committee. According to Singer, this committee is “focused entirely on compensation and evaluation of presidential performance.”  Kania and Singer both noted that even they are “not privy to that [information], that’s private between the president and the trustees he reports to.”

In terms of direct raises, faculty compensation has increased by roughly 2 percent on average for the past 20 years, according to the Faculty Salary Equity Report from 2021. In comparison, Cornwell saw a roughly 31 percent increase in compensation from his first full year at Rollins in 2016 to the most recent compensation data from 2019. 

Presidential compensation is also a highly regulated process compared to other executive positions.

“You have to have, from an IRS standpoint, a comparable look done at [a president’s salary] against similar institutions,” Kania said, adding that “[the position of president] is the most regulated position that there is.” 

When compared to 252 other institutions of higher education, Cornwell’s compensation was 120/252, placing him just above the median presidential compensation. 

Within Rollins’s benchmark group, though, Cornwell’s compensation is closer to the top. Based on recent data from the Chronicle database, Cornwell is making 37 percent more than the average compensation for schools in the Rollins benchmark group.

It is important to note, however, that this is not truly comparable data, because not every institution had presidential compensation data from 2019 in the database. While the most significant jump in compensation for Cornwell was from 2016 to 2017, when he went from receiving $541,586 to $726,808, there may also be other jumps in peer institution presidential compensation that make the shift appear less dramatic. 

In addition to the analysis of how presidential salary compares to faculty salaries, a recent report from Inside Higher Ed found that the real average salary for full-time faculty has fallen by approximately 5 percent this year. The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) – a metric that analyzes real average salaries in professional settings – increased 7 percent in 2021 compared to average compensation increases of 2 percent. Inflation has risen 8.5 percent over the last year.

When asked about faculty concerns about compensation and inflation, Kania said that inflation has made the standard pay raises for Rollins faculty less impactful. He added that often when concerns are brought forward, “it’s just people trying to make us aware, especially at the leadership level, to pay attention to having adequate compensation pools.”

“The challenge we have is we have to [compensate adequately]; we’re fully committed to it. We’re working really hard to be up to a living wage for all employees – that’s been an extremely important thing – and at the same time, we have to live within the confines of the budget,” Kania said.

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