In the latest round in the continuing struggle over financing in the California State University system, next week the board will apparently be entertaining a policy to “freeze the pay of campus presidents, but allow foundations associated with the campuses to pay for raises.” This comes after Cal State students threatened a hunger strike over continuing tuition hikes at the same time that school administrators are enjoying salary increases.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times:

The proposal would freeze state-funded executive pay hikes through 2014, but also allow individual schools to use foundation dollars — primarily donations — to augment the salaries.

Cal State has suffered almost $1 billion in state cuts since 2008. This has caused the institution to increase class size, hike tuition, and fire faculty and staff.

In July, however, the board agreed to pay the new president of San Diego State $400,000 a year. That’s $100,000 more than Cal State paid his predecessor. According to the article:

The use of foundation funds to pay for executive salaries is not uncommon in higher education, Cal State spokeswoman Claudia Keith said.

“This is appropriate when state funds are continuing to dwindle and the Legislature continues to disinvest in education,” she said. “We still have to be competitive and hire the best people we can.”

This is an argument academic administrators continue to make, as if somehow Cal State will suffer irrevocable damage if it can’t pay presidents $400,000 a year.

The average college president, however, earns $244,553 a year. Why does San Diego State need to pay so much more? San Diego State is a pretty average school; one might think an average salary would be good enough.

If there’s all this foundation money available to support public colleges in California, why not use it to cut tuition back to affordable levels again?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer