SARASOTA, Fla. — New College of Florida may be the smallest college in the state's public university system, but its newly-minted president is on tap to become one of its highest-paid.
Earlier this year, Richard Corcoran's campus paycheck had already earned him big money headlines when the school’s board of trustees voted to pay the former Republican lawmaker and Florida Education Commissioner an annual salary of nearly $700,000, more than double his predecessors.
And that salary was just to be the temporary president with no higher education leadership experience.
Now, contract documents just released Thursday morning show that Corcoran, a close friend and political ally of Gov. Ron Desantis, is expected to earn an even higher presidential compensation package.
According to meeting material posted online Thursday morning, Corcoran's contract is expected to exceed well over $1 million per year. The pricey comps package makes him one of the highest-paid Florida public college presidents, despite leading the state's smallest campus.
Among highlights from Corcoran's new contract include details that remain the same as his interim presidential package:
- Annual base salary of $699,000
- $84,000 annual housing stipend
- $12,000 annual car allowance
But, according to his proposed new contract, Corcoran will also get $18,000 in moving expenses and be eligible for several lucrative bonuses, including bonuses for increasing student enrollment to 1,200 within five years and an annual performance bonus that could earn him up to $200,000 additional dollars each year.
A recent financial analysis commissioned by the school's Board of Trustees to determine a suitable presidential compensation package showed most Florida university presidents earned less than $200,000 in bonus cash last year. Florida State University's president was reported to have received a $50,000 bonus bump at a campus with nearly 50,000 more students than New College.
Corcoran's new contract, if approved, also gives him retention bonuses at the three and five-year mark, which could amount to another $200,000 each.
"This is totally out of whack," George Mason University research professor James Finklestein, who has studied public university president salaries for years, said.
Finkelstein estimates Corcoran's new contract has a cash value of up to $6.5 million over five years and $7.5 million with fringe benefits, giving him the potential to be just the second-highest-paid college president in Florida. Ben Sasse is currently the highest-paid Florida university president, with an annual base salary of just under $1.5 million.
But records show Corcoran's million-dollar-plus contract isn't a golden parachute that just fell out of campus skies.
Using the financial study commissioned by the board, trustees had voted for a total presidential compensation range to be between $890,000 to just over $1.5 million, which this new contract falls in line with.
But Finkelstein takes issues with how that Mercer study was done.
"It is a poorly done study," he said because instead of comparing the compensations of presidents at similarly sized public colleges, Mercer focused largely on private schools, including Hillsdale College, the private conservative Christian college DeSantis has said he sees as a model for New College.
"If you want to do this job right, you would have gotten the contracts of the actual contracts for the public universities and analyze those," Finkelstein said.
Mercer wouldn't comment on its study.
But in an August interview, while he was interim president, Corcoran was unapologetic about his high-dollar, higher education gig.
"You didn't have to accept it," Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone said to Corcoran about his then-interim salary.
"I absolutely would accept it, and so would you," Corcoran replied.
Most of Corcoran's compensation comes from New College's foundation. After his interim salary was approved, some members of the college raised concerns if the foundation could even afford the salary.
Since Corcoran took over in February as part of DeSantis' so-called "war on woke" in higher education, nearly 40% of New College faculty have left, and student drop-out rates spiked.
But the liberal arts college has expanded its athletic program, secured millions in state funding, and enrolled a record number of new students, most of them athletes.
Its success his supporters point to while critics question its price to a small campus.
"He's not a national political figure with a substantial record of real, national leadership," Finkelstein said. "He has been a local politician in Florida, who's being rewarded, it seems to me at least, for having been loyal to the governor."
The full contract can be viewed below: