Strayer Education Inc., a chain of for-profit colleges that receives three-quarters of its revenue from U.S. taxpayers, paid Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert Silberman $41.9 million last year. That’s 26 times the compensation of the highest-paid president of a traditional university.
Top executives at the 15 U.S. publicly traded for-profit colleges, led by Apollo Group Inc. (Phoenix University) and Education Management Corp. (the Arts Institute of Wisconsin), also received $2 billion during the last seven years from the proceeds of selling company stock. At the same time, the industry registered the worst loan-default and four-year-college dropout rates in U.S. higher education. Since 2003, nine for-profit college insiders sold more than $45 million of stock apiece. Peter Sperling, vice chairman of Apollo’s University of Phoenix, the largest for-profit college, collected $574.3 million.
Education corporations, which receive as much as 90 percent of their revenue from federal financial-aid programs, are “private enterprise that’s almost entirely publicly funded,” Henry Levin, director of Columbia University’s National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, said in a telephone interview.
While there is a growing movement that bases teacher compensation on student acheivement, for profit college CEO pay has no discernable relationship to student performance.
Students at for-profit colleges are defaulting on their loans at three times the rate of those at private, nonprofit institutions, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, which is tightening regulation of the industry. The graduation rate for first-time, full-time candidates for four- year degrees at for-profit colleges is 22 percent, compared with 55 percent at state colleges and 65 percent at private nonprofit universities.
“For-profit colleges are reaching into the public trough to finance luxurious lifestyles at the expense of people who are going to have to pay back loans,” said Levin, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York.
John G. Sperling, Apollo’s 89-year-old founder and executive chairman, received $263.5 million from stock sales during the last seven years. Robert B. Knutson, retired CEO and chairman of Pittsburgh-based Education Management, the second- largest for-profit college chain by enrollment, got $132.4 million. Dennis Keller and Ronald Taylor, former co-CEOs of DeVry Inc., a Downers Grove, Illinois-based for-profit higher education company, together collected $110.4 million in stock proceeds.
For more read the Bloomberg News investigative report, Executives Collect $2 Billion Running U.S. For-Profit Colleges, by John Hechinger and John Lauerman.