Aoun ranked eighth highest-paid private college president in US, new report finds

President Aoun stands behind a podium at the 2022 President’s Convocation. Aoun was the eighth highest-paid private college president in the U.S. during FY 2022 with a total compensation of roughly $2.7 million.
President Aoun stands behind a podium at the 2022 President’s Convocation. Aoun was the eighth highest-paid private college president in the U.S. during FY 2022 with a total compensation of roughly $2.7 million.
Marta Hill

President Joseph E. Aoun was the eighth highest-paid private college president in the country during the university’s 2022 fiscal year, according to a recently-published analysis of private college presidents’ compensation by the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

In Northeastern’s fiscal year (FY) 2022 — spanning July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022 — Aoun’s total compensation more than doubled, according to the university’s most recently filed Form 990, a tax disclosure form for non-profit institutions, and The Chronicle’s analysis. His total compensation jumped from about $1.27 million in FY 2021 to more than $2.7 million — roughly a 113% increase.

Aoun’s FY 2022 base compensation of roughly $1.07 million increased from about $1.04 million the year before.

Total compensation consists of earnings from base compensation, bonus and incentive compensation, other reportable compensation and nontaxable benefits, which include healthcare insurance and other non-monetary contributions from the university. 

While The Chronicle did not include information regarding retirement and other deferred compensation in its breakdown, Aoun is also set to receive $179,000 in payment sometime in the future, according to the university’s Form 990. 

Aoun’s compensation boost can largely be attributed to the roughly $700,000 withdrawn in deferred compensation and $550,000 awarded in bonus and incentive pay. Before FY 2022, Aoun hadn’t collected any deferred funds since FY 2018. He received between $220,000 and $240,000 in compensation deferred for the future each year between FY 2019 and FY 2021. 

The university also deferred bonuses for all faculty and staff in April 2020, one of several measures Northeastern took to ensure its financial health during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Deferred compensation packages, a popular tool private colleges use to encourage top officials to hold lengthy tenures in their positions, allow institutions to set aside tax-free funds to be withdrawn at a later date. While the university did not provide specifics regarding Aoun’s compensation package, he was compensated a similarly-high $3 million in FY 2012.

“Northeastern’s approach to compensation is market informed and driven by the need to recruit and retain talented individuals across all dimensions of the university. Each year, faculty and staff participate in the university’s performance-based merit pay program. Over the past 15 years, we have been able to provide Northeastern faculty and staff with pay increases aligned with the market,” university spokesperson Renata Nyul said in a statement when The News first inquired about Aoun’s compensation in October 2023.

“Compensation for the president and other senior leaders is the purview of the Board of Trustees, which uses a rigorous analysis of peer institutions to ensure that compensation is in tune with the market,” Nyul said. “In some years, specific individuals may receive one-time payments to acknowledge the achievement of significant multi-year goals.” 

Aoun’s total compensation was one of the highest in the nation, according to The Chronicle, sitting behind only seven other private college presidents, including former University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, who earned an outlying $22.9 million, Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger with $3.9 million and New York University President Andrew Hamilton, who made $3.5 million in total compensation.

Aoun made significantly more than presidents at other private, highly selective Massachusetts schools in FY 2022.

Former Boston University President Robert A. Brown earned about $1.8 million, former Tufts University President Anthony P. Monaco made $1.17 million, former Massachusetts Institute of Technology President L. Rafael Reif made about $1.26 million and former Harvard University President Lawrence S. Bacow brought in $1.29 million in total compensation during FY 2022, according to their respective financial disclosure forms and The Chronicle’s analysis.

In addition to presidents’ pay, Form 990s also display compensation of an organization’s “officers, directors, trustees, key employees and highest compensated employees.” 

Northeastern’s most recent disclosure form showed several other top university officials were compensated significantly more than the previous year as well — also a result of increased bonus and incentive pay from the accomplishment of long-term goals and deferred compensation.

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David Madigan received about 91% more in total compensation than the year before — for a total of $961,858, up from $503,333 in FY 2021, with a near $300,000 increase in his base earnings. 

Senior Vice President of External Affairs Michael Armini earned $862,754, roughly $365,000 more in total compensation than in FY 2021.

Northeastern’s Senior Vice President of University Advancement Diane N. MacGillivray and Senior Vice President and General Council Ralph C. Martin II both made about 65% more than they did in FY 2021 — each earning roughly $1.25 million in total compensation with slight increases in base earnings. The two senior executives each received $225,000 in deferred compensation.

While Northeastern does not appear to publish or offer the public the option to request its Form 990s — unlike other local universities —  the tax return documents are accessible through several online databases, which can take up to 18 months from the institution’s time of initial filing to update.

The university is required to file its Form 990 for FY 2023 with the Internal Revenue Service approximately 11 months after the end of its fiscal year, or around May 2024.

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