CU chief calls report on campus payrolls ‘simplistic’

By Bruce Benson

It’s unfortunate that BizWest’s “Campus payrolls defy recession” report took such a simplistic view of the economics of higher education in our state. Its message essentially was high administrative salaries drive tuition increases and there are no checks and balances on runaway costs. The piece cried out for context.

First, higher education is no different from any economic sector in that we compete for top talent in the marketplace. The University of Colorado is a complex, $3.3 billion annual enterprise. Running it requires a specialized skill set. At CU, we are fortunate to have leaders on our four campuses focused on fostering an educational environment that allows students and faculty, as well as the research activities so critical to our state, to thrive.

Delivering the high-quality education our students demand and our state needs requires that we compete in a national marketplace for the best faculty and administrators. Still, Colorado salaries lag far behind national peers.

Our administrators aim to operate our campuses as efficiently as possible, and they succeed. Administrative overhead in the CU system is 37 percent below that of national peers. At the same time, our tuition is at or below those same national peers.

The story’s other premise, that “administrators awarded themselves handsome salary increases,” is frankly ridiculous. It implies that governing boards elected by the people (in CU’s case) or appointed by the governor are somehow hoodwinked by administrators into paying them inflated salaries. I can assure you that at CU, the Board of Regents gives careful scrutiny to salaries during every budget cycle. It does them a disservice to suggest otherwise.

Nobody would argue that a college education has become increasingly expensive. Yet the story fails to note that state funding for Colorado’s “taxpayer-owned schools” ranks 48th nationally. Less than 6 percent of CU’s budget comes from taxpayers.

The conversation about the cost of higher education and its role in the economy, health and culture of our state is an important one. I hope we can have it in a measured way rather than through overly simplistic reporting.

Bruce D. Benson

President

University of Colorado

By Bruce Benson

It’s unfortunate that BizWest’s “Campus payrolls defy recession” report took such a simplistic view of the economics of higher education in our state. Its message essentially was high administrative salaries drive tuition increases and there are no checks and balances on runaway costs. The piece cried out for context.

First, higher education is no different from any economic sector in that we compete for top talent in the marketplace. The University of Colorado is a complex, $3.3 billion annual enterprise. Running it requires a specialized skill set. At CU, we are fortunate to have leaders on our four campuses focused on fostering an educational environment that allows students and faculty, as well as the research activities so critical to our state, to thrive.

Delivering the high-quality education our students demand and our state needs requires that we compete in a national marketplace for the best faculty and administrators. Still, Colorado salaries lag far behind national peers.

Our administrators aim to operate our campuses as efficiently as possible, and they succeed. Administrative overhead in the CU system is 37 percent below that of national peers. At the same time, our tuition is at or below those same national peers.

The story’s other premise, that “administrators awarded themselves handsome salary increases,” is frankly ridiculous. It implies that governing boards elected by the people (in CU’s case) or appointed by the governor are somehow hoodwinked by administrators into paying them inflated salaries. I can…