finding the right major

Faculty Salaries at Top-Tier Institutions

A college professor can have a life-altering effect on a student. This occurs often at top-tier institutions where the faculty-to-student ratio is low. The best professors impel students to challenge the conventional wisdom of the society around them. They teach the skills that enable a student to earn a livelihood in their chosen field.

The quality of a school’s faculty depends, to a great extent, on their compensation. The salaries of full time college faculty vary widely according to whether they teach at a private or public university, their degree credentials, publication history, facility with oral communication, and demonstrated expertise in their field. Not surprisingly, a full professor who’s in a tenured position on the faculty of an elite private institution will be among the highest paid professors in the country.

The average salary of full time faculty is a significant aspect of an institution’s profile. This is the reason that third party college ranking sources factor faculty salaries into their computations. For example, the US News & World Report ranking algorithm incorporates a category called Faculty Resources, which accounts for 20% of their overall assessment of a school. Their description is as follows:

“Research shows that the more satisfied students are about their contact with professors, the more they will learn and the more likely they are to graduate. U.S. News uses five factors from the 2016-2017 academic years to assess a school’s commitment to instruction.

Class size is 40 percent of this measure. Schools receive the most credit in this index for the proportion of their fall 2016 undergraduate classes with fewer than 20 students. Classes with 20-29 students score second highest, 30-39 students third highest, and 40-49 students fourth highest. Classes that have 50 or more students receive no credit.

Faculty salary (35%) is the average faculty pay, plus benefits, during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 academic years, adjusted for regional differences in the cost of living using indexes from the consulting firm Runzheimer International. U.S. News also weighs the proportion of professors with the highest degree in their fields (15%), the student-faculty ratio (5%) and the proportion of faculty who are full time (5%). 

Salaries for full-time, continuing faculty increased by 2.7% in 2016 over 2015, according to the Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). That’s down slightly from 2.9% in 2015, the first time the figure exceeded 2% since the 2008 recession.

Since 1980, the proportion of the academic labor force holding full-time tenured positions has declined by 26% and the share of full-time tenure-track positions has dropped by 50%, according to the report, which states that, “The increasing reliance on faculty members in part-time positions has destabilized the faculty by creating an exploitative, two-tiered system; it has also eroded student retention and graduation rates at many institutions.”

The AAUP report offers as a solution that colleges begin to convert part-time and full-time non-tenure-track position to tenure-track positions at an additional average cost of 2% of total expenditures per year. AAUP asserts that there are benefits to doing so beyond being able to attract better faculty, including more risk-taking and superior innovation in research and improved student retention and graduation rates.

In Table A, we compare average salaries of full time professors at the highest-paying elite institutions to their 2016 rank in the US News & World Report. Our purpose is to test the degree of correlation of faculty salaries to the overall ranking of schools.

Table A: Comparison of Professor’s Salaries with Rankings





Average Professor

Salary ($000)

US News


    National Universities:
1 Chicago 260 3 (tie)
1 Harvard 260 2
1 Stanford 260 5 (tie)
2 Columbia 240 5 (tie)
2 MIT 240 5 (tie)
2 Univ. of Pennsylvania 240 8
2 Princeton 240 1
3 Caltech 220 10
3 Duke 220 9
3 Yale 220 3 (tie)
4 UC – Berkeley 200 21
4 Brown 200 14 (tie)
4 Cornell 200 14 (tie)
4 Dartmouth 200 11
4 Michigan – Ann Arbor 200 28
5 Texas – Austin 180
5 Virginia – Charlottesville 180
    Liberal Arts Colleges:
1 Amherst 180 2
1 Pomona 180 6 (tie)
1 Swarthmore 180 1
1 Wellesley 180 3 (tie)
2 Bowdoin 160 3 (tie)
2 Harvey Mudd 160 12
3 Middlebury 140 6
3 Carleton 140 8 (tie)

Sources: Chronicle of Higher Education and US News & World Report

As you can see, schools are clumped together with respect to salary levels. We may assume that this is due to the fact that they compete with each other for both faculty and students. Another factor affecting salary levels is the variance in the cost of living in different parts of the country. Among the highest-paying states for full time faculty salaries are Massachusetts ($141,000), California ($131,000), Connecticut ($127,000), and New York ($124,000). Among the lowest are Nebraska ($95,000), Mississippi ($93,000), Arkansas ($89,000), and North Dakota ($88,000).

There are a small number of professor’s salaries that are remarkably high. These are extraordinary, world-renowned scholars who have made major contributions to society and stand at the pinnacle of their profession. The top ten highest-paid professors, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, teach at the Ivy League schools Columbia, Cornell, Yale, and Harvard, another prestigious private university, Duke, two public universities, UC Berkeley and UT Austin, and, surprisingly, three of them teach at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, an international business college in Phoenix.

The top ten professors are listed with their school and salaries below:

  1. David N. Silvers, Columbia, $4.33 million
  2. Zev Rosenwaks, Cornell, $3.3 million
  3. Dean Takahashi, Yale, $2.6 million
  4. William E. Fruhan, Jr., Harvard, $1.19 million
  5. Dan J. Laughhunn, Duke, $1.03 million
  6. Andrew M. Isaacs, Berkeley, $709,000
  7. Kannan Ramaswamy, Thunderbird, $700,000
  8. Andrew Inkpen, Thunderbird, $566,000
  9. Steven Weinberg, UT Austin, $536,000
  10. Graeme Rankine, Thunderbird, $493,000

The best universities offer myriad resources, including outstanding faculty. IvySelect, as a college admissions consulting firm specializing in top-tier schools, makes its students aware of resources at top universities that match their interests, in order to develop a solid college list. IvySelect’s college consultants have successfully assisted many students in achieving their educational goal of admission to an Ivy League or similarly elite institution. If you aspire to attend a top-tier institution, you’ll benefit from our professional expertise in optimizing your chances of acceptance. Since you are a unique individual, we develop a strategy that suits your interests, preferences, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. Your IvySelect counselor then works closely with you to accomplish your goal.

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