Presidents at Utah's 10 public colleges and universities are getting closer to earning the national average after the state Board of Regents approved salary increases Tuesday.

"College presidents are at a premium these days," said Commissioner of Higher Education Rich Kendell, who will also get a significant pay hike. "They're getting better offers than ever before."

The cost-of-living increase, he said, coupled with additional merit raises, is meant to help compete in the market for college presidents. He said it's getting harder to keep presidents in their positions when other institutions around the nation can afford to pay them more.

Michael K. Young, president of the University of Utah, is the highest-paid president of Utah's public institutions. With the 5 percent increase in his salary this year, he will earn $331,812. According to a survey last fall by the Chronicle of Higher Education, the U. supplements Young's salary with a compensation package that includes a house, a car and $44,873 in additional retirement pay.

Utah State University President Stan L. Albrecht also got a 5 percent raise and will earn $270,100. He receives $30,298 in supplemental retirement pay and club dues, as well as $12,862 in deferred compensation, according to the Chronicle survey. The university provides him with two houses and a car.

The median pay for leaders of public research universities nationwide last year was $374,846, the survey said. But 42 leaders of those public universities earned more than $500,000 annually. The median pay for leaders of private research universities was $497,046 in the 2005 fiscal year, the most recent for which Internal Revenue Service data are available.

All of the Utah presidents received a hefty increase last year, some nearly 10 percent more than they were making, but Kendell said what they were making was low.

"The past two years have seen robust tax returns for the state," he said. The current state of the economy in Utah has allowed the regents to consider more of an increase than they've been able to offer in previous years.

This year, the board received enough money from the Legislature to give a cost-of-living increase to all the presidents and the commissioner. Kendell said regents boosted that with merit increases to bring each institution leader closer to the national average.

The turnover rate for the top job at Utah's schools has been higher than normal in the past few years. Since he assumed the office in 2003, Kendell said, he's been involved in eight national searches to replace college and university officials at Utah's schools.

"We can't offer them more than they could make elsewhere, but we can offer them at least as much," Kendell said. "We've got to at least be in the game."

Salary increases are the top priority for the regents during every legislative session, he said. Each session, salaries are negotiated not just for administration but for faculty members.

"We have some outstanding administrators, scholars and educators," he said. "Replacing them would be difficult."

He expects it to take at least another year or two to be close to or at the national average.

"Our intent is to get at market value and close the gap," Kendell said. "We're getting closer over time, but we're not there yet."

William A. Sederburg, president at UVSC, is getting the largest increase among the presidents this year, a 7 percent raise to $181,216. According to the regents, that raise reflects the school's change to university status.

Other presidents who got 5 percent raises were Weber State University's F. Ann Millner, who will earn $182,592; College of Eastern Utah President Ryan L. Thomas, with $137,713; Salt Lake Community College President Cynthia A. Bioteau, at $184,748; and Utah College of Applied Technology President Robert O. Brems, earning $139,125. A new president, who has yet to be chosen for Snow College, will get $137,713.

Dixie State College President Lee Caldwell and Southern Utah University President Michael T. Benson will be getting a 3.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, which was the minimum recommended by the state Legislature earlier this year. Caldwell's salary will be increased to $155,328, while Benson will be making $181,125. Both presidents are fairly new to the institutions they serve and were able to negotiate a higher salary when they were appointed, Kendell said.

The commissioner will be getting an 8 percent increase, bringing his salary from $185,750 to $200,610.

"His achievements this year have been outstanding," said the regents' chairman, Jed Pitcher.

Approval of the new salaries was delegated to the Board of Regents Executive Committee after the group as a whole ran out of time at its regularly scheduled board meeting earlier this month. The new pay rates take effect July 1 and reflect earnings for the upcoming fiscal year.