15 college presidents who've been paid millionaire salaries

Dave Kotinsky/Getty ImagesColumbia University president Lee C. Bollinger speaks at the 97th Annual Pulitzer Prizes in Journalism, Letters, Drama and Music Winners Luncheon on May 30, 2013.
  • Pay for university presidents has risen dramatically over the last several years, according to data from The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • The highest-paid university president as of 2016, former Baylor head Ken Starr, made 41 times the average full-time professor salary.
  • Here are the 15 highest-paid public and private university presidents as of 2016, the latest year for which data was available.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Much like business-executive pay, university-president compensation has grown over the past decade.

Average compensation for private college presidents jumped 4% year over year in 2016 and 9% in 2015, according to data from The Chronicle of Higher Education. At the same time, more and more public university presidents earn over $US1 million.

The Chronicle updated their executive compensation tracker in December 2018 to include additional data from private colleges. The most recent data documents total salaries in the year 2016.


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The highest-paid university president, as of 2016, was former Baylor University head Ken Starr. He made $US4,946,996, about 41 times the average full-time professor salary.

Most of the highest-paid presidents reside over private colleges, but two public-university presidents made the top 15: former University of Louisville President James R. Ramsey and Auburn University President Jay Gogue.

A handful of the highest-paid college presidents resigned from their posts due to scandals. The heads of Baylor University and University of Rochester left due to mishandling of sexual misconduct reports on campus. The University of Louisville president left after accusation of taking excessive compensation from the school’s foundation.

The gap between what faculty members earn and what presidents earn has also risen. Tenure-track positions have shrunk as low-wage adjunct professors – who typically work without benefits – increase on campuses, according to the American Association of University Professors.

The same trend can be seen beyond education: the biggest US companies set CEO pay records in 2018 for the fourth straight year, according to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis. Real wages for workers, meanwhile, have stagnated for decades.

“There has never been as great a discrepancy in higher education between those who are the highest paid and those who are the lowest paid,” William Tierney, professor and co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California, told The Washington Post. “What higher education is doing is mirroring the behaviours of the corporate world.”

Here are the highest-paid university presidents from private and public colleges in the US as of 2016:


15. University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer made $US1,625,136 in 2016.

Base pay: $US1,090,844

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 7:1


15. Simmons College President Helen G. Drinan made $US1,656,654 in 2016.

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Base pay: $US477,241

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 19:1


14. Robert A. Brown, president of Boston University, made $US1,672,442 in 2016.

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Base pay: $US1,012,150

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 10:1


13. Former University of Southern California President C.L. Max Nikias made $US1,768,947 in 2016.

Base pay: $US1,331,610

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 10:1

Nikias stepped down in 2018 after 200 professors signed a letter accusing him of mishandling allegations of sexual assault involving a former campus gynecologist.


12. Former Auburn University President Jay Gogue made $US1,827,786 in 2016.

Michael Chang

Base pay: $US451,333

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 15:1

Gogue retired in 2017.


11. University of Miami President Julio Frenk made $US1,861,159 in 2016

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Base pay: $US1,123,370

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 12:1


10. Former University of Rochester President Joel Seligman made $US1,990,250 in 2016.

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Base pay: $US1,253,000

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 13:1

Seligman resigned from his post in 2018 following reports of sexual misconduct on campus.


9. Paula S. Wallace, president of the Savannah College of Art and Design, made $US2,043,120 in 2016.

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Base pay: $US930,889

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 26:1


8. Former Union College President Stephen C. Ainlay made $US2,289,549 in 2016.

Base pay: $US528,625

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 18:1

Ainlay stepped down from his position in 2018.


7. High Point University President Nido Qubein made $US2,368,358 in 2016.

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Base pay: $US663,870

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 26:1


6. Edward Guiliano, president of the New York Institute of Technology at Old Westbury, made $US2,733,651 in 2016.

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Base pay: $US766,712

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 22:1


4. University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann made $US3,211,681 in 2016.

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Base pay: $US1,312,917

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 15:1


3. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger made $US3,927,961 in 2016.

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Base pay: $US1,371,910

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 18:1


2. Former University of Louisville President James R. Ramsey made $US4,290,232 in 2016.

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Base pay: $US55,703

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 39:1

After Ramsey stepped down in 2016, the university board sued him for spending funds at an “excessive and unsustainable rate” and taking unfair compensation from the University of Louisville Foundation, according to The Chronicle.


1. Former Baylor University President Kenneth W. Starr made $US4,946,996 in 2016.

Base pay: $US338,174

Ratio of total compensation to average full-professor salary: 41:1

Starr (who as a special counsel in the ’90s led investigations on the administration of President Bill Clinton) separated from Baylor after reports surfaced that university executives inadequately responded to sexual misconduct.

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