Georgia college president paid $9.6 million and gets a free house

Among all the nonprofit colleges in the U.S. - think Emory, Duke, Harvard and many more, including leading research universities - which would you think has paid its president the most?

It's one in Georgia. But not who you might think.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the latest available data shows that it's Savannah College of Art and Design, where compensation for President Paula Wallace was $9.6 million in 2014. Much of that money was deferred compensation from a retirement agreement.

Wallace, a former Atlanta teacher, is co-founder of the college, which opened in 1979 and had about 12,000 students in 2014.

In comparison, that same year the president of Emory University, which has some 15,000 students, was paid about $1.2 million, IRS records show. So was the president of Duke, which also has around 15,000 students. Harvard, with around 22,000 students, lagged, paying its president about $900,000.

SCAD's tax form also shows that it provided Wallace and trustees travel on the corporate aircraft, as well as travel at times for their companions and family members.  Wallace is also provided with a residence and with a housing allowance "in connection with her personal residence in the Atlanta area."

Executive pay at nonprofits of all types has drawn scrutiny in Congress in the past. IRS enforces a law that strictly forbids a tax-exemption organization from receiving unreasonable benefits from the nonprofit, such as excessive compensation. Organizations are to pay executives "fair and reasonable" compensation, though there is not a universal standard defining that.

SCAD's tax filing said that Wallace's base pay and bonuses are determined by the board in conjunction with an independent compensation consulting firm. "The institution complies with the procedures and standards set forth in the IRS regulations to receive the 'rebuttable presumption of reasonableness' with respect to the total compensation paid to the president," the tax form states. It goes on to explain that part of Wallace's pay that year was boosted by a lump sum of deferred compensation.

The tax form also shows that three of Wallace's family members received wages and benefits from the college, as did family members of a former officer and some key employees. The highest amount was $557,533, paid to Wallace's husband.