State Comptroller Wants Guidelines for Community College Presidents’ Pay

New Jersey doesn’t have a formula to determine community college presidents’ compensation which results in large discrepancies. State Comptroller Matthew Boxer investigated and found that total compensation ranged from $100,000 to $441,000 for the presidents. He’s recommending that the secretary of higher education set forth guidelines to govern the process and offer greater transparency. He spoke with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider about the investigation and his recommendations.

Community college presidents in the state don’t only have varying salaries, but also perks, according to Boxer. “The numbers are all over the place both in terms of salary and in terms of perks. We saw a variety of different kinds of perks that different colleges are paying their presidents,” he said. “There’s no state standards or guidelines and as a result, the compensation practices have great disparity.”

Perks are often unknown to taxpayers who may look up salaries for the presidents, which can include housing allowances and payments to retirement funds. Boxer cited one president who received a $150,000 payment to a retirement fund in addition to a salary.

The Bergen Community College president received more than $16,000 for meals, liquor and entertainment, according to Boxer who called that number “striking.” He also explained a possible conflict of interest.

“The problem is some of these meals were with the president and the college trustees who are supposed to be overseeing and supervising the fiscal practices of the president. So you have the folks who are supposed to be giving the oversight here and they’re being treated to these same meals on the public dime as everyone else,” he said. “So that really counters their incentive to be giving that kind of strict oversight that taxpayers would want to see.”

The Brookdale Community College president received more than $40,000 for four children to attend four different universities, which Boxer said included private educational institutions. “The thing that really we found astounding about that is not only did the school compensate that president $27,000 for those tuition payments, but they also tacked on another $13,000 to help them out with the tax liability that would result from those gifted payments,” he said. “You get the free ride in terms of the tuition payments and just so there’s not even tax implications on the back end, they paid that off as well.”

The highest paid president from the year investigated was at Union County College. The total compensation was $441,000 and Boxer said he was on sabbatical for six months of the year so he wasn’t performing the presidential duties for that time.

Boxer hopes to institute changes. “We’ve recommended that the secretary of higher education set forth some guidelines and parameters to govern this process. Now we recognize this isn’t a one size fits all situation. There may be differences from college to college, but there should be some guidance and parameters for schools to follow so we don’t see some of these exorbitant practices,” he said. “I was pleased to see that the secretary of higher education has agreed with our recommendations and we look forward to this issue getting fixed in the very near future.”