Overall, administrators received a 4.2 percent increase statewide in salary between fiscal years 2011 and 2013. University system administrators got a 9 percent increase. Those raises totaled $4 million.
At the same time, tuition statewide went up about 9 percent and in the last legislative session, lawmakers cut higher education funding by almost $1 billion, The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday.
Higher-education observers and administrators who approved salary increases say they're necessary to keep top talent in a competitive market where a steady supply of students keeps incomes high.
"Any time you're talking taxpayer money, it's an easy target," said Bill Funk, a Dallas-based consultant who assists colleges with finding new presidents. "But it's all driven by the marketplace, it's not greed and compared to the responsibilities on the corporate side, they're not too out of line."
But Peggy Venable, director of the small-government advocacy group Americans for Prosperity Texas, questioned whether regents were spending taxpayers' money wisely.
"Any government entity will spend every penny they're given and then say they need more, and at some point we as taxpayers and policymakers need to say, `This is all we're allocating, we expect you to most efficiently use those dollars,"' she said.
James Simmons, president of Lamar University in Beaumont, got a 10 percent raise in base pay, even as Lamar's tuition went up by nearly 25 percent from 2010 to 2012. Officials say Simmons was a strong fundraiser and boosted enrollment.
Renu Khator, president and chancellor of the University of Houston System, got a $200,000 raise and a $150,000 bonus between 2011 and 2013 as she pushed for UH to be recognized as a top emerging research institution. Khator will make more than $1 million this year, counting non-cash compensation and car allowances.
Nelda Luce Blair, the chairwoman of the UH system's board of regents, said Khator was a "dynamic and productive leader" worthy of her compensation package.
Many state presidents -- 21 out of 36 -- did not take a raise this year.
"When they're asking for more money, it's for the university budget," Funk said. "There are a lot of presidents out there who haven't received increases over the last few years or have turned them down and been given reduced compensation."
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