Pay for Cal State presidents has grown at nearly twice the rate as pay for lecturers

In her first year as chancellor of the California State University system, Mildred García will earn just under $1 million in total compensation to lead the nation’s largest system of higher education. 

That’s more than triple Gov. Gavin Newsom’s compensation. It’s also a steep increase from the three previous chancellors who led the 23-campus system.

According to an analysis by CalMatters using publicly available salary data, system leaders and presidents in the Cal State system have seen their pay increase at a higher rate than full-time professors and lecturers over the past 15 years.

While the Cal State system aims for executive salaries to be at the median of comparable institutions nationwide, trends pushing that median upward have resulted in larger salaries for the system’s chancellor and campus presidents.

Cal State is facing backlash for approving student tuition increases earlier this year and simultaneously raising executive pay during a $1.5 billion budget deficit. Meanwhile, the California Faculty Association is preparing to strike for increased pay. The faculty union has four strikes planned for early December at Cal Poly Pomona, San Francisco State, Cal State Los Angeles and Sacramento State.

García inherits a system with a long list of priorities — chief among them, negotiating raises for the 29,000 instructors the faculty union represents. The union said Oct. 31 that 95% of its members who voted approved of strike plans amid negotiations to lift the minimum wages for the lowest-paid instructors and increase salaries generally, among other demands. 

CalMatters reached out for an interview with García, but she declined through Cal State spokesperson Amy Bentley-Smith.  

“The CSU should use the budget … for direct instruction and student advancement, not for continued expansion of administrative bloat and endless administrative positions at the Chancellor’s Office and on all 23 campuses.” CHARLES TOOMBS, FACULTY UNION PRESIDENT AND AFRICANA STUDIES PROFESSOR AT SAN DIEGO STATE

At the Cal State Board of Trustees meeting in July,  faculty and union members criticized executive salary increases at the university system. At that meeting, the board voted in favor of the chancellor’s compensation package and discussed a proposal to increase student tuition.

“The CSU should use the budget it receives from the state for direct instruction and student advancement,” said Charles Toombs, faculty union president and Africana studies professor at San Diego State, “not for continued expansion of administrative bloat and endless administrative positions at the Chancellor’s Office and on all 23 campuses.”  

Additionally, student leader Dominic Treseler said at the July meeting a tuition hike beginning in Fall 2024 would adversely affect students. 

“Students should not bear the inequitable burden of addressing revenue shortfalls for the system,” said Treseler, president of the Cal State Student Association and a senior studying political science at San Jose State. Nevertheless, the board voted in September to increase tuition by 34% over five years. 

Rate of salary increases for instructors lag behind executives 

Cal State presidents have seen their base salaries grow by an average of 43% between 2007 and 2022, translating to an average $119,882 salary increase per campus president over that time. 

In 2022, all 23 presidents received a 7% raise. Additionally, 14 of the presidents who underwent three-year reviews received additional equity increases between 6.7% and 20%.

“Even after making the general salary increases and other market adjustments, 17 campus presidents remain below their peer group median salary,” Bentley-Smith wrote in an email statement.

The Cal State chancellor has seen significant salary increases over the same 15-year period — increasing 38% from a $451,500 base salary for former chancellor Charles Reed in 2007 to a $625,000 base salary for interim chancellor Jolene Koester in 2022. 

The Cal State Board of Trustees allotted an additional 27% salary bump in July 2023 when they approved a $795,000 base salary for García. Additionally, $80,000 in deferred compensation, a $96,000 annual housing allowance, and a $1,000 monthly auto stipend brought her total compensation package to just under $1 million a year.

In comparison, instructor salaries have been slower to grow. On average, lecturer salaries at Cal State increased by 22% within the past 15 years, translating to a $13,000 pay bump for the system’s 3,000 full-time lecturers. In Fall 2022, full-time lecturers earned an average of $71,255.  

Meanwhile, professor pay has risen at a rate of 30% since 2007, going from an average of $93,643 to  $122,016 in Fall 2022. Full professors, the top rank on the tenure track, at Cal State are the highest-paid faculty while lecturers are the lowest. 

“Yeah, I can’t even describe how bad it feels. But it feels horrible. But here I am.”CLAIRE GARRIDO-ORTEGA, CO-PRESIDENT OF THE FACULTY UNION AT CAL STATE LONG BEACH AND HEALTH SCIENCE LECTURER

Even for students, the pay disparity between on-the-ground faculty is concerning. 

“It’s kind of crazy to expect our faculty members to be able to perform so well at such a low compensation rate,”  Treseler said.

Claire Garrido-Ortega, co-president of the faculty union at Cal State Long Beach and health science lecturer, said in her 18 years of teaching in higher education, she has only received one pay increase as a result of union bargaining in 2020.

“Yeah, I can’t even describe how bad it feels,” she said. “But it feels horrible. But here I am.”

Cal State spent about a third of its $12 billion budget on salaries and wages during the 2022-23 year. Of that expense, nearly half, or just over $2 billion, went to faculty. Staff expenses came to one-third, at $1.4 billion. Most of the rest of the funds went to other employees, including student assistants. The smallest slice,  just 0.3%, or $14.3 million, covered executive salaries. While the executive expenses increased by $3 million over the past five years, the net percentage of the budget did not increase.

A 2022 systemwide review of staff salaries in the Cal State system found that they “have not kept pace with general industry or with other higher education institutions” over the past 15 years. Of the employees who responded, 96% agreed the CSU lacks “an appropriate and consistent process for advancing the pay of employees.”

Cal State isn’t the only system in the state rewarding executives with raises. Within the past decade, University of California chancellors, equivalent to CSU presidents, had an average salary increase of 73%, or $233,738, between 2012 and 2022. 

In July 2020, UC Regents approved an $890,000 base salary for UC President Michael Drake, the system leader, a steep increase from his predecessor Janet Napolitano, who earned a base salary of $570,000 in 2019. 

Salaries for executives are increasing nationwide  

In spite of outcry from faculty and students over recent decisions from the board of trustees, pay for university executives has consistently increased across the country.

From 2010 to 2019, compensation for college presidents across 49 states, excluding Hawaii, increased 56%, according to an analysis published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The average salary for a college president rose from $543,000 in 2010, to $715,000 in 2019, an increase 32% above the rate of inflation, according to the article’s authors Judith Wilde and James Finkelstein, professors at George Mason University in Virginia. 

Part of what is driving salaries upward is the trend of campuses looking for candidates with corporate leadership experience, Wilde said. 

“People in those kinds of positions are used to seeing higher salaries,” Wilde said. “They see that most large universities have overall budgets of many millions if not into the billions of dollars.” 

Despite the nationwide upward trend, the reality is that California institutions are still on the lower end of the base salary nationally, according to Wilde, particularly in the Cal State system. She added that California generally has a higher cost of living than other states yet salaries do not reflect that fact when compared to administrators at other state institutions.

“The most ridiculous set of contracts we see are out of Florida. California is not anywhere near up to that,” Wilde said. “They’re low, particularly if you are thinking about the Cal State system, which has lower pay than the UC system.”

Presidential pay at Cal State is determined by the median salary of comparable institutions nationally, in addition to the candidate’s reputation, breadth of experience and other accomplishments, according to CSU compensation policy.

“We are a state institution at the end of the day and we have to be fiscally prudent with our resources,” Cal State’s Bentley-Smith said. “So we need to attract and retain the brightest and most talented in order to serve our mission and so we need to pay accordingly to attract those people.”

Bentley-Smith declined to answer whether executive salaries could be capped in the future, stating any policy change on executive pay would need to be initiated by the board of trustees.   

“The more we’re asked to do, the more society yells at us and says, ‘Oh, you’re failing at your mission,’ while you’re asking us to do a lot.”LYNN MAHONEY, SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY’S PRESIDENT

For Cal State presidents, each campus is grouped with comparable universities across the nation to assess the median salary.  The median salaries of the comparison groups sit at $498,269 on the high end and $370,234 on the low end.

In comparison, the average base salary for presidents in Texas public universities rounded to $670,000 in 2022. Additionally, three of the nation’s highest-paid presidents that year were in Texas. The University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Houston all paid their presidents over $1 million in base salary, also well above the $608,426 average of presidents in the UC system in 2022. 

At Cal State, presidents meet with the chancellor during the first year of appointment to discuss campus-specific goals and set starting compensation. For new presidents, base salary is not permitted to exceed their predecessor’s by more than 10% unless “extraordinary circumstances” arise – including the president’s recognized ability. 

A year later, they reconvene to discuss progress, after which reviews are conducted every three years, according to Cal State policy. Presidential reviews entail feedback from student and campus leadership as well as alumni.

Along with increases in salary, presidents are often granted additional compensation and perks during contract negotiations that can dramatically increase their full compensation. Presidents can consult with personal lawyers for added benefits such as exit agreements, allowing presidents to remain at their respective schools in the form of a teaching position, in some cases, even if removed for a specific reason. 

Former Cal State chancellor Joseph Castro resigned as the system’s leader in February 2022 after allegations he mishandled sexual harassment complaints. Castro then exercised his “retreat rights” to become a faculty member at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he started teaching in spring 2023. 

Wilde said there are typically no metrics to determine if a president is reaching the goals of the university. Executive contracts involving performance bonuses or incentives list things generally, such as increasing enrollment, without specific benchmarks. Wilde expects executive pay to continue the upward trends seen nationally.

Finklestein added that a president’s goals are often considered a private matter among the board and not made public. He said this further perpetuates the treatment of campus presidents as corporate executives rather than a leader of an educational institution.

The role of the campus president

San Francisco State University’s president, Lynn Mahoney, joined the campus in May 2019. Mahoney, who earns a base salary of $463,585, says her salary is at the median of comparable institutions.

Mahoney said her job includes four main roles: hiring and mentoring the campus leadership, promoting the university’s mission to external stakeholders, providing basic needs for students and guiding the campus as a moral and political leader.

“So my typical day is meeting, meeting, meeting, meeting,” Mahoney said.

She says over the past five years, increasing demands of presidents have made the job more difficult. Mahoney said colleges increasingly provide students’ basic needs, as well as moral and political guidance for the campus community during turbulent times locally, nationally and abroad.

In addition, she said she holds a lot of responsibility in her oversight of a $300 million budget, the success of 23,000 students and the well-being of all the employees.

“The more we’re asked to do, the more society yells at us and says, ‘Oh, you’re failing at your mission,’ while you’re asking us to do a lot,” Mahoney said. “So there’s another piece now to being a university president that is so much harder, and so much more complicated than it ever was before.”

Mahoney added that while base salaries for campus executives may be high, it’s a necessary tool for the system to recruit on a national stage. According to Mahoney, in hiring for her own campus, she’s lost candidates to campuses that could offer higher salaries and in states with lower costs of living than California. She thinks Chancellor García is the type of candidate many campuses across the nation would have loved to hire. 

“If the next state over is going to pay $900,000 or more, $1.2 million, how is the CSU going to recruit the kind of quality chancellor it needs to serve the largest, most impactful state university system?” Mahoney said.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Tuition Hike of 34% Across Five Years Coming to California State University

The California State University system voted today to raise tuition 6% annually for the next five years, a decision that seemed destined when its leaders revealed in May that Cal State brings in far less revenue than it needs to educate its nearly half a million students.

The system’s board of trustees voted 15 to 5 to approve the hikes, choosing financial stability over the collective outcry of students and the faculty union that denounced the move.

The Cal State “is a dream engine” but approving tuition hikes is a “nightmare scenario,” said Cal State trustee Jose Antonio Vargas, who ultimately voted for the increases.

The first increase will kick in for all tuition-paying students next fall. For in-state undergraduates, that’ll be an uptick of $342, rising to $6,084 per year. After five years, annual undergraduate tuition will be $1,940 higher than it was in the 2023-24 school year.

Currently, tuition and campus fees at most Cal States are below $8,000 — and below the national average of nearly $10,000.

Cal State is in a race to increase its graduation rates — especially among Black, Latino and Native American students — to make good on a promise that all major ethnic groups graduate at similar levels by 2025. That means more faculty, classes, tutors, mental health professionals and other academic expenses. Other expenses include more than $40 million annually to adopt changes to how the system tracks and resolves sexual discrimination cases after a series of high-profile incidents that led to top officials resigning. Two marquee reports published in July faulted Cal State’s handling of sexual misconduct violations. Also looming over the system is the risk of strikes as workers seek raises Cal State says it cannot afford.

Cal State expects to draw $148 million in new revenues in the first year of the tuition jump. Core to the plan is that one-third of those revenues will support student financial aid.

Around 60% of Cal State undergrads don’t pay any tuition because they receive enough state and system financial aid. An additional 18% of students pay partial tuition. Cal State senior staff say that won’t change under the tuition hike. Meanwhile, a new state grant is sending more money to middle-class students.

Those details were scant consolation to the students raging against the increases during yesterday’s meeting of the Cal State board of trustees. Across roughly 2.5 hours of designated time for public comments, an hour longer than trustees planned, students  inveighed against the trustees for proposing the tuition hikes and reprimanded the trustees for slouching and looking at their phones during the students’ remarks. Some decried what they called the inherent racism of raising revenue through tuition hikes at a system that enrolls mostly students of color. A few admonished Cal State for not explaining how the hikes will affect students who pay full tuition. Others bitterly observed that the incoming system chancellor’s compensation will exceed $1 million.

“Students are supposed to be offered affordable higher education but instead we are slowly being stripped away of our education because the CSU fails to see us as students but instead sees us as their salary increases,” said Cassandra Garcia, the student body president at Sonoma State. 

“You watch your students sleep in cars from the comfort of your gated communities,” another student from Cal State Dominguez Hills said.

“We are working numerous jobs just to be able to attend and you want to raise tuition,” said Courtland Briggs, a student from Cal State Channel Islands. “It’s pathetic. Y’all are pathetic.”

Shortly after the public comment session Tuesday, Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester tried to quell the nerves of trustees. “I know you are uncomfortable and I appreciate your discomfort,” she said. But Koester reiterated her comments in July that it’s never a good time to raise tuition and expecting students to ever support hikes is “fantasy.” 

Among the trustees opposing the hikes were two prominent California lawmakers and likely gubernatorial hopefuls who sit on the board of trustees: Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who has announced she’s running for governor in 2026, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who’s been “seriously considering” jumping into the race.

Kounalakis said the trustees “headed into an action that you do not fully understand the consequences of,” she said today before the vote. Even if 60% of undergraduates don’t pay tuition, 184,000 students do. “I don’t see how we can do this without knowing what a $2,000 a year increase is going to mean for our students. We know anecdotally that a lot of students are going to drop out.” She wanted to postpone the vote until trustees learned more — and let the incoming chancellor who starts next month make the final call.

Trustee Lillian Kimbell pushed back, saying while she doesn’t know how the hike will affect the students paying tuition, she knows “100%” of students will experience a worse academic experience without the added revenue.

Twelve of the 20 trustees also shot down an effort by a student member, Diana Aguilar-Cruz, to limit the tuition hikes to four years rather than five. Doing this would have cost the system $126 million in lost revenue, said Koester. Still, the board is empowered to shorten the length of the hikes in the future.

Tuition hikes were on the table since May, when a task force concluded that Cal State needs at least $1.5 billion annually in new revenue to afford student services and bolster its academic offerings.

“This is a lot like climate change,” said Julia Lopez, a CSU trustee and co-chairperson of the working group, at the May trustees meeting. “If we don’t heed the warning signs right now, we’re going to find ourselves in a world of hurt down the line. So that’s what we’re trying to do, to get ahead of that.

Daniel Fanous, a third-year business major at CSU Bakersfield, pays full tuition, so the hike will affect him. Fanous said he covers the costs by working a full-time job seven days a week, and with support from his parents. 

“I think that, over time, if they keep increasing it, a lot of people are going to see value elsewhere in life than just getting an education formally,” Fanous said. 

Kathryn Flores, a third-year liberal studies major also at CSU Bakersfield, pays for her tuition both out-of-pocket and with student loans.

“I feel scared about it because I pay for my own college tuition,” she said. “My parents don’t pay for it.”

“If we don’t heed the warning signs right now, we’re going to find ourselves in a world of hurt down the line. So that’s what we’re trying to do, to get ahead of that.”JULIA LOPEZ, CSU TRUSTEE AND CO-CHAIRPERSON OF THE WORKING GROUP

The tuition hikes were formally proposed in July and were met with instant opposition from the system’s faculty union, the California Faculty Association, which represents about half of Cal State’s roughly 60,000 workers, as well as a student group affiliated with the union.

“CFA opposes student tuition increases,” said Charles Toombs, the union’s president, at the July trustees meeting. He called on the system to prioritize the state support it already receives and advocate for more state funding. He also reiterated that Cal State should spend more of its money on student instruction and advancement.

The union reiterated its opposition to the hikes this week ahead of the trustees meeting with an email blast that said its members ”unequivocally oppose the 6% multi-year tuition increase.”

The system’s academic senate, which represents professors on academic matters, passed a resolution this month asking the Cal State trustees to delay its tuition-hike vote “until the impact of such a tuition increase on enrollments and diversity has been analyzed and reported upon.”

The resolution also criticized the trustees for formally discussing the tuition hike for the first time in July, when most students and professors aren’t in class.

It’s a point underscored by Dominic Quan Treseler, president of the systemwide Cal State Student Association. “You cannot tell me we wouldn’t have had twice as many protesters outside of those doors If this was not presented three weeks after school started,” he said during remarks to the board Tuesday.

While about 42% of undergraduates borrow to attend Cal State, a new report co-sponsored by the student association finds that almost two-thirds of those students come from families that earn less than $54,000.

Given those figures, Treseler said, the tuition hikes “will continuously suffocate and impede the success of our students and the system.” And because two-thirds of Black students borrow, he added, a tuition increase “will decimate the Black student population across our system.”

He noted that many students who want to avoid borrowing must work more than 20 hours a week to afford college expenses beyond tuition, such as housing, food and transportation. This tuition increase, he said, would require another three to four hours of work per week.

“I feel scared about it because I pay for my own college tuition. My parents don’t pay for it.”KATHRYN FLORES, THIRD-YEAR LIBERAL STUDIES MAJOR AT CSU BAKERSFIELD

Treseler also expressed exasperation that student government advocates spent weeks persuading the trustees to change the tuition hike so that it’s not indefinite — as originally proposed in July — to one across five years. And while he has sympathy for the Cal State leaders’ obligations to respond to salary demands from its workers, he said the system’s top consideration should be “to offer an accessible and affordable road to success for every Californian.”

But it’s salaries that are the main expense for the system. More than 70% of Cal State’s $8 billion core budget is spent on salary and benefits.

The faculty union is in heated negotiations with Cal State over raises to lessen the sting inflation has had on workers’ purchasing power. The union wants 12% raises this year. Cal State said it can do that across three years or a one-year raise of 5%.

Other unions also want raises, but Cal State says it needs to spend $55 million annually for every 1% bump in pay for all employees. Money for those salary demands and the student services Cal State says it needs to have more students graduate are in direct competition this academic year, the system wrote. Teamsters Local 2010, a union that represents skilled workers such as electricians and plumbers, plans to ask its members to approve a strike in the coming weeks, its principal leader, Jason Roboniwitz, told CalMatters.

“And if they don’t start getting fair with us, the new chancellor could start her first month on the job with a 60,000-person strike, the biggest labor dispute in CSU history,” he said.

Outside the trustee meeting space yesterday, unionized workers chanted for better wages, at times with a full drum kit. But the system insists its budgets are already strained by its wage-increase promises. 

“The CSU’s commitment to fair and competitive employee compensation requires budgetary tradeoffs, which could result in nearly all other operating budget priorities receiving only some or none of the new funding in 2023-24,” Cal State leaders wrote in documents ahead of today’s vote.

That sentiment was echoed by Interim Chancellor Koester during an Aug. 25 video address, in which she said current new salary commitments for staff and faculty were greater than the $227 million in new money Cal State got from the state budget this year.

“Her fearmongering threats are not only disrespectful towards the faculty and staff who serve the students in the CSU, but it is also disingenuous to claim that the CSU does not have the budget to properly compensate workers,” a September faculty union press release said.

But even with tuition increases that’ll kick in next year, Cal State’s revenues won’t be enough to handle all its future costs, system leaders argue. Cal State’s proposed budget for 2024-25 seeks $557 million in new revenue. About a quarter comes from new tuition hikes and $240 million from additional state funding Gov. Gavin Newsom promised the system as part of a five-year compact. But Cal State wants $145 million on top of that.

All that translates to just $220.7 million to fund 2024-25 compensation increases for all employees, Cal State says. That’s enough for 4% across-the-board raises for all staff, it says.

Pushed to increase raises beyond what it’s been offering, Cal State “will have fewer employees and we will have fewer seats for students in our classes,” Koester said Tuesday.

In one scenario, if Cal State agrees to 15% raises over three years, and the tuition hike didn’t happen, the system would have a half-billion-dollar budget hole. The new tuition revenue would still mean a deficit of $322 million, said Ryan Storm, a senior budget staffer for the system, today. Again, layoffs would be likely, he added.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters