Skip to main content

The Impact of U.S. News College Rankings on the Compensation of College and University Presidents


Widespread attention to college tuition and student loan debt has resulted in increasing scrutiny of high levels of compensation for college and university administrators. Prior research has sought to identify a “pay for performance” relationship in executive compensation, but discovered no clear link between presidential salaries and performance measures. This study proposes U.S. News & World Report college rankings as a highly meaningful performance metric and employs a fixed effects regression model to determine the relationship between college rankings and presidential salary. We find a significant relationship between rank and presidential salary at public universities, but not at private universities and liberal arts colleges, consistent with an academic capitalism model.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Anderson, N., & Douglas-Gabriel, D. (2016, January 30). Nation’s prominent public universities are shifting to out-of-state students. Washington Post.

  • Bai, G. (2014). University president compensation: Evidence from the United States. Higher Education Studies, 4(6), 1–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bartlett, R. L., & Sorokina, O. V. (2005). Determinants of presidential pay at national liberal arts institutions. Review of Higher Education, 29(1), 53–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bastedo, M. N., Samuels, E., & Kleinman, M. (2014). Do charismatic presidents influence college applications and alumni donations? Organizational identity and performance in US higher education. Higher Education, 68(3), 397–415.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bowman, N. A., & Bastedo, M. N. (2009). Getting on the front page: Organizational reputation, status signals, and the impact of U.S. News and World Report on student decisions. Research in Higher Education, 50(5), 415–436.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brewer, D. J., Gates, S. M., & Goldman, C. A. (2005). In pursuit of prestige: Strategy and competition in U.S. higher education. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bruni, F. (2015, May 20). Platnium pay in ivory towers. [Editorial]. New York Times.

  • Butler, K. (2009, June 3, 2009). How to game the college rankings: Tips from Clemson. Mother Jones.

  • Cantwell, B., & Taylor, B. J. (2013). Global status, intra-institutional stratification and organizational segmentation: A time-dynamic tobit analysis of ARWU position among U.S. universities. Minerva, 51(2), 195–223.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cheng, S. (2014). Executive compensation in public higher education: Does performance matter? Research in Higher Education, 55(6), 581–600.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cotton, R. D. (2012). Myth: College and university presidents are overpaid. The Presidency.

  • De Vise, D. (2011, September 3). U.S. News college rankings are denounced but not ignored. Washington Post.

  • Desrochers, D., & Hurlburt, S. (2016). Trends in college spending: 2003-2013—Where does the money come from? Where does it go? What does it buy?. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dickler, J. (2017). Student loan balances jump nearly 150 percent in a decade. College Game Plan.

  • Ehrenberg, R. G. (2000). Tuition rising: Why college costs so much. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ehrenberg, R. G. (2002). Reaching for the brass ring: The U.S. News & World Report rankings and competition. Review of Higher Education, 26(2), 145–162.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ehrenberg, R. G., Cheslock, J. J., & Epifantseva, J. (2001). Paying our presidents: What do trustees value? Review of Higher Education, 25(1), 15–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Galle, B., & Walker, D. I. (2014). Nonprofit executive pay as an agency problem: Evidence from U.S. colleges and universities. Boston University Law Review, 94, 1881–1934.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gordon, G., & Fischer, M. (2014). Public university presidential compensation: Performance, cost efficiency and spending choices. Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management, 26(4), 557–583.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Harris, A., & Bauman, D. (2017, December 19). New tax law takes aim at higher education’s millionaires club. Chronicle of Higher Education.

  • Hatch, J. (2017). Re: Question about compensation data. In R. Yeung (Ed.).

  • Henry, T. F. (2015). Are public university executives paid for their performance? In C. R. Lehman (Ed.), Sustainability and Governance (pp. 161–181, Advances in Public Interest Accounting, Vol. 18): Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

  • Hodson, J. B. (2010). Leading the way: The role of presidents and academic deans in fundraising. New Directions for Higher Education, 2010(149), 39–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Huang, Y. S., & Chen, C. R. (2013). Are college chief executives paid like corporate CEOs or bureaucrats? Applied Economics, 45(21), 3035–3043.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lane, J. E. (Ed.). (2012). Agency problems in higher education administration (The Organization of Higher Education: Managing Colleges for a New Era). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Langbert, M. (2006). How universities pay their presidents. Academic Questions, 19(2), 67–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Langbert, M., & Fox, M. (2013). The compensation and benefits of private university presidents. Journal of Academic Administration Higher Education, 9(2), 45–56.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lee, G., Sanford, T., & Lee, J. (2014). Variables that explain changes in institutional rank in U.S. News & World Report rankings. KEDI Journal of Educational Policy, 11(1), 27–47.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewin, T. (2015, June 7). Benefits grow for public university presidents, survey finds. New York Times.

  • Ma, J., Baum, S., Pender, M., & Welch, M. (2016). Trends in college pricing 2016., Trends in Higher Education Series New York: College Board.

    Google Scholar 

  • McKenna, L. (2015, October 15). The allure of the out-of-state student. The Atlantic.

  • Meredith, M. (2004). Why do universities compete in the ratings game? An empirical analysis of the effects of the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. Research in Higher Education, 45(5), 443–461.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mitchell, M., Leachman, M., & Masterson, K. (2016). Funding down, tuition up. Washington, D.C.: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

    Google Scholar 

  • Monks, J. (2007). Public versus private university presidents pay levels and structure. Economics of Education Review, 26(3), 338–348.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Monks, J., & Ehrenberg, R. G. (1999). The impact of U.S. News & World Report college rankings on admission outcomes and pricing policies at selective private institutions. NBER Working Paper Series No. 7227.

  • Mulhere, K. (2017). The best-paid public college president in the U.S. makes $1.55 million a year. CNN Money.

  • Murphy, K. J. (Ed.). (1999). Executive compensation (Handbook of Labour Economics). Amsterdam: North-Holland.

    Google Scholar 

  • O’Shaughnessy, L. (2013). College rankings more important than ever. CBS Moneywatch.

  • Pfeffer, J., & Ross, J. (1988). The compensation of college and university presidents. Research in Higher Education, 29(1), 79–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Saul, S. (2015, December 6). Salaries of private college presidents continue to rise, Chronicle survey finds. New York Times.

  • Saunders, K. T. (2007). Salary study of college presidents and faculty: Are salaries for institutions in the council of christian colleges and universities different from other private institutions? Christian Business Academy Review.

  • Serow, R. C. (2000). Research and teaching at a research university. Higher Education, 40(4), 449–463.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Slaughter, S., & Leslie, L. L. (1997). Academic capitalism: Politics, policies, and the entrepreneurial university. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Soares, R., Combopiano, J., Regis, A., Shur, Y., & Wong, R. (2010). 2010 catalyst census: Fortune 500 women board directors. New York: Catalyst.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sorokina, O. V. (2003). Executive compensation: The case of liberal arts college presidents. Issues in Political Economy, 12.

  • Tang, T. L.-P., Tang, D. S.-H., & Tang, C. S.-Y. (2000). Factors related to university presidents’ pay: An examination of private colleges and universities. Higher Education, 39(4), 393–415.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Weisbrod, B. A., Ballou, J. P., & Asch, E. D. (2008). Mission and money: Understanding the university. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wittmer, D. (1991). Serving the people or serving for pay: Reward preferences among government, hybrid sector, and business managers. Public Productivity & Management Review, 14(4), 369–383.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Yeung, R., & Nguyen-Hoang, P. (2014). Fixed-effects models. In D. Brewer & L. O. Picus (Eds.), Encyclopedia of education economics and finance (pp. 350–352). Los Angeles: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhe Jin, G., & Whalley, A. (2007). The power of information: Do rankings affect the public finance of higher education? National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper No. 12941.

Download references


The authors would like to thank Dana St. Aubin for help with data collection, the support of Distinguished Professors Award for Graduate Student Research at SUNY-Brockport, and two anonymous referees for their comments.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ryan Yeung.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yeung, R., Gigliotti, P. & Nguyen-Hoang, P. The Impact of U.S. News College Rankings on the Compensation of College and University Presidents. Res High Educ 60, 1–17 (2019).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • U.S. News rankings
  • College presidents
  • Presidential compensation
  • Pay-for-performance
  • Board of trustees
  • Academic capitalism