Special Report

Highest Paid College Presidents at America's Public Universities

Pay for university presidents has been rising dramatically in recent years, and 2021 pay data shows that trend continued through the coronavirus pandemic. Though the pay varies greatly among the heads of degree-granting institutions in the United States, critics say the pay does not always reflect a school’s ranking. 

Richard Vedder, distinguished professor of economics emeritus at Ohio University, pointed out in a Forbes article last year that University of California President Michael V. Drake earns substantially less than 16 public university presidents — who earn more than $1 million in annual total pay.

“Isn’t it peculiar that the president of Augusta University (a Georgia school not as highly regarded by Forbes as Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Georgia State and other Georgia institutions), makes substantially more than the highest paid UC president?” Vedder said.

To identify the highest paid college presidents, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed The Chronicle of Higher Education’s How Much Are Public-College Presidents Paid? The Chronicle looked at base pay, bonuses, and benefits for 196 chief executives at public doctoral universities and systems in 2021. The figures reflect the total amount the executives earned from the institution during the 2021 calendar year, regardless of how long they held the role of president. 

Augusta University President Brooks A. Keel is one of the 25 most highly compensated public university presidents (or public university system chancellors) according to the latest ranking The Chronicle of Higher Education. Keel is one of four university leaders on the list whose pay declined from 2020, by a slight 0.2%, to a total pay of $999,906, including $93,418 worth of benefits.

The total pay of the 25 most highly compensated public university leaders in 2021 range from $919,000 for former Florida International University President Mark B. Rosenberg to $2.29 million for North Carolina State University’s W. Randolph Woodson.

Rosenberg was compelled to resign earlier this year after he sought out companionship from a female university employee in her 20s. Two other university presidents on this list resigned or were fired – one for a similar incident and one for mishandling sexual misconduct allegations.  

The 2021 list of the highest paid college presidents or chancellors includes four women, two of whom were born in India. One of these women, University of Houston President Renu Khator, is the first Indian immigrant to lead a U.S. comprehensive research university. (These are the best colleges with a female president.)

The list also includes a former Navy vice admiral, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, a former state governor, and a former House representative. (Also see, the universities spending the most on research.)

Here are the highest paid university presidents.

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