Curious where extra tuition dollars are going? One place to look might be the pockets of college presidents.
Five presidents have cracked the $1 million compensation barrier, according to an annual survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education, to be released today.
Nine of the presidents made more than $900,000 -- a figure none broke in last year's report.
All were at private universities, and the figures are for fiscal 2004, the most recent information available for private schools.
More recent data on public universities, for the current academic year, shows salaries are rising there as well. Leaders of 23 public institutions are being paid $500,000 or more this year, up from 17 a year ago.
Donald E. Ross of Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., was reported to have made the most, at $5.04 million. However, all but $477,000 of that was deferred compensation paid after 34 years as president.
He was followed by Audrey K. Doberstein of Wilmington College in Delaware ($1.37 million) and E. Gordon Gee of Vanderbilt University, and formerly president of Brown ($1.33 million).
In past surveys, the only presidents to have been paid more than $1 million had done so in their final years of service; their compensation was generally boosted by a severance or retirement package.
The survey this year, however, features two million-dollar presidents -- Ross and Gee -- who are still in their posts.
Mary Sue Coleman of the University of Michigan was reported to be the highest-paid public university president this year; her compensation package was said to have amounted to $724,604.
She was followed by David P. Roselle of the University of Delaware ($720,522 in fiscal 2004) and by Mark G. Yudof of the University of Texas system ($693,677).
Raymond D. Cotton, a Washington lawyer and a specialist on presidential contracts and compensation, said salary competition is being fueled by retirements among baby boomer presidents, and by the desire of governing boards to hire only presidents who have been presidents elsewhere.
''What's happening is there's an imbalance of supply and demand," Cotton said.
The competition has driven the average tenure of the president of a large college down to about five years on average, often too short for effective leadership.
Still, most presidents at the nation's 3,500 colleges and universities make far less. Other figures from the Chronicle show the average chief executive of a single institution makes about $181,000. And even the salaries of top college presidents pale in comparison to those of top corporate CEOs.
Cotton said he sees the compensation of private college presidents rising more rapidly than that of their public counterparts, whose schools educate far more students.