Paychecks for Utah's eight public college presidents swelled by up to 24 percent Monday.
The salaries will continue to grow every year for the next four years, until they are near the middle of the pay scale for a group of similar institutions around the country, said Pam Silberman, spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education.
The largest increase for 2013-14 will go to Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland, whose approximately $46,000 raise will bring his salary to about $241,000 a year. Utah State University President Stan Albrecht will see a 14 percent boost to just under $326,000, while Dixie State University President Stephen Nadauld will get a 20 percent increase to about $193,000 a year.
Those figures don't include regular benefits or presidents' additional perks, such as the use of a presidential residence or deferred compensation. Though many presidents are the highest-paid at their institutions, Silberman said they don't compare well with other states.
"The market for presidential searches is a national market, so the salaries need to be competitive on a national level," she said, pointing to college presidents who have left Utah and substantially increased their paychecks. Former Southern Utah University President Michael Benson doubled his pay to $400,000 when he moved on to Eastern Kentucky University.
But the pay hikes come as tuition continues to rise for students, and most are significantly larger than raises given to rank-and-file faculty members. The Utah Legislature approved 1 percent raises for higher education employees this year.
"It's very sad and demoralizing," said David Knowlton, president of the American Association of University Professors at Utah Valley University. "People who are at the front line of educating students are being cut back."
Neither the Legislature nor the State Board of Regents will have to approve future raises for Utah higher education chiefs. Commissioner David Buhler will approve changes every year designed to bring presidents to the median, a number calculated by his office through a comparison to similar schools around the country. At UVU, for example, the comparable schools include Boise State University, Northern Kentucky University and California State University-Northridge.
Most Utah college presidents are still $30,000 to $60,000 below the median estimated by Buhler's office. This year's hikes bring them to 15 percent below that median.
But the median could change every year, depending on the economy and what other schools pay their presidents. Under a new policy approved by the regents in May, Utah pay will change along with it, which ties the salaries to the market for college presidents, Silberman said.
"Obviously the median is going to shift from year to year," she said. Poor job performance or budget cuts from the Legislature could also affect the raises.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he supports the plan, which was approved in May by the Utah Board of Regents.
"There ought to be at least some attempt to bring them to the median," Herbert said in a June interview. Two years ago, he urged the regents to back off on a pay raise plan that proposed smaller increases than those approved in May. "This is a much better plan, and the economy is in much better shape."