If the Occupy movement had been smart, the 1 percent they targeted would have been in the ivory tower, not on Wall Street.
According to an analysis by the Chronicle of Higher Education, in the 2011 fiscal year, 132 presidents of public colleges and universities made $344,000 or more — the income level that marks the divide between the bottom 99 percent and the top 1 percent. Private-college presidents raked in even more: 208 made $344,000 or more in 2010, with 36 of those making $1 million or more.
It’s no surprise that college presidents are receiving top dollar: More and more, a year’s college tuition is exceeding the annual salary that a student can expect to make in the first few years after graduation. (And that assumes the student can even snag a job requiring a college degree in this dismal economy.)
At New York City’s New School, for instance, then-president (and now failed Nebraska Senate candidate) Bob Kerrey made $3 million in 2010. Students entering the college this fall will pay a steep $38,000 in tuition. (And that’s before room and board.) It’s the same story at other colleges. At Washington University of St. Louis, where the tuition is now $44,000, chancellor Mark Stephen Wrighton made around $2.3 million. At Vanderbilt University (tuition: $42,000), chancellor Nicholas Zeppos made $2.2 million, while at Columbia University (tuition: $47,000), president Lee Bollinger made $1.9 million.
It’s generally less profitable to be the president of a public university, but many of their paychecks would still look pretty darn good to any member of the 99 percent. Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee made $2 million in 2011. Current tuition there is $10,000 in-state and $25,000 out-of-state. At Penn State (in-state $16,000, out-of-state $29,000), president Graham Spanier made nearly $1.1 million, and at the University of Kentucky (in-state $10,000, out-of-state $20,000), president Lee E. Todd Jr. made $1 million.
Exorbitant as these salaries are, they’re not the driving reason behind the enormous rate of increase in college tuition over the years. (Since 1985, tuition has jumped by 559 percent, according to the New York Times, while the Consumer Price Index has just about doubled.) But presidents certainly could choose to give back some of their salary as scholarships for the 99 percent trying to attend those schools. Bob Kerrey’s 2010 haul, for instance, could have paid for about 80 students to attend the New School.
Why pick on these presidents? Well, for one thing, while the Occupy movement camped out on Wall Street, participants seemed driven in large part by frustration over onerous student loans. (If they had been upset over the mortgage crisis, their choice of locale would have made more sense.) Consider this 2011 note on the “We are the 99 percent” tumblr, which flourished during the height of the Occupy movement:
I’m 29 years old and between my husband and myself we have $200,000 in student loan debt that we will never be able to pay off. I have a chronic pain disease and should be on disability but we can’t afford it. I’m grateful to have a job but I’m definitely under employed. They lied when they said education will keep you from debt. :( We are the 99%!
The reason college tuitions have shot up so much isn’t attributable to any single factor (although it hasn’t helped that the government keeps increasing the amount in loans and grants it’s willing to give to students, reassuring administrations that there won’t be a shortage of cash to fund their tuition hikes). But the Occupiers were right to notice that college is becoming a larger and larger financial burden for the middle class. It’s too bad they didn’t turn their focus to the members of the 1 percent who could really change that.