Officials this week are expected to officially name former education commissioner Richard Corcoran the interim president at New College of Florida, with a contract that will put him near the top of the pay scale among his peers at other schools.
The Sarasota school’s new board of trustees last week approved a bump of about $400,000 for Corcoran to take the interim job,and the state Board of Governors is poised to ratify the terms at its meeting on Wednesday.
Corcoran, 57, stands to earn a base salary of $699,000 per year as president of the small liberal arts college that has been at the center of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ plans to change higher education.
That number will make New College an outlier among Florida’s 12 public universities when it comes presidents’ pay, especially given the school’s small size. It’s also more than double the $276,000 salary Corcoran made in 2018 when DeSantis picked him to serve as education commissioner, overseeing 67 school districts with more than 2.8 million students.
At New College, which has fewer than 700 students, Corcoran was tapped to be interim president by Matthew Spalding — one of six new conservative trustees appointed by DeSantis in January.
In their first meeting last month, the new trustees framed the school as an institution in crisis, in need of a turnaround from the top down — a characterization that many students, faculty members and alumni have disputed. During that meeting, the school ended its contract with former president Patricia Okker, who earned a base salary of $305,000.
In selecting Corcoran, several New College board members cited a resume that includes his experience as an attorney and as the Florida House speaker from 2016 to 2018, the state education commissioner during DeSantis’ first term, and a member of the state Board of Governors, which oversees the State University System.
Board member Christopher Rufo said Corcoran’s contacts in the Legislature would serve the school well as it seeks state funding.
Corcoran is “someone who is battle-tested and ready on Day One,” said Debra Jenks, chairperson of the New College board. She told fellow board members last week that she reviewed the contracts of other presidents in the university system and deemed Corcoran’s salary and benefits to be “totally within those ranges.”
With so many changes planned at the school, Jenks said, his “pay scale is warranted.”
Corcoran’s compensation also stands out among similar-sized schools deemed comparable to New College by the National Center for Education Statistics.
None of the presidents at comparison schools with fewer than 1,000 students have a base salary over $500,000 per year. The president of the University of New Hampshire at Manchester — New College’s closest comparison in terms of size — has a base pay of $484,640.
The only school leader among the comparison set who comes close to Corcoran’s pay is Cedric Wins, a retired U.S. Army general who has a base salary of $656,250 as superintendent of the 1,600-student Virginia Military Academy.
The list of similar-sized schoolsdoes not include Hillsdale College, a small conservative school in southern Michigan. But Hillsdale has been part of the conversation in Florida, where top officials have welcomed input from its faculty members. Some conservatives also have pointed to Hillsdale as a blueprint for what New College could become.
If Corcoran’s contract is approved, he would start on March 1 and serve as interim president for up to 18 months, or until the board selects a permanent president following a national search.
Ian Hodgson is an education data reporter and Divya Kumar covers higher education for the Tampa Bay Times, working in partnership with Open Campus.