Are Public University Executives Paid for Their Performance?

Sustainability and Governance

ISBN: 978-1-78441-654-6, eISBN: 978-1-78441-653-9

ISSN: 1041-7060

Publication date: 4 September 2015


My study examines the pay-for-performance relationship surrounding executive compensation in higher education. There has been much criticism of the rising levels of university presidential pay, particularly in the public sector, citing it is pay without performance. Public colleges and universities are funded by taxpayers; therefore, their expenditures are even more heavily scrutinized than private institutions. Many feel that university executives are overpaid and are not delivering a return in the form of enhanced institutional performance to their investors, the public. Growing student debt only adds intensity to the outcry against heightened compensation. Proponents of the increasing pay levels contend that the ever-changing role of the university president and competition in the marketplace for talent warrants such compensation. Using data obtained from The Chronicle of Higher Education and Integrated Postsecondary Education System websites, I find a highly significant and positive relationship between compensation for executives at four-year public institutions and both the levels of university endowment and enrollment. These results support the pay-for-performance debate. In contrast, results for other performance measures, scholarships and graduation rates, do not support the debate. My study contributes to the literature examining pay-for-performance in higher education with an empirical analysis examining the institutional determinants of executive compensation for public colleges and universities.



Henry, T.F. (2015), "Are Public University Executives Paid for Their Performance?", Sustainability and Governance (Advances in Public Interest Accounting, Vol. 18), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp. 161-181.

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