The Best Colleges and Universities by Faculty Salary

Most rankings of colleges and universities look to factors that bear on the academic excellence of the faculty and of the research and instruction taking place at these institutions. Obviously, money plays a role here: schools with more money to spend, especially on hiring and keeping outstanding teachers and researchers, are more likely to offer a superior education.

The Best Colleges and Universities by Faculty Salary

But what if we made money the sole criterion for identifying the academic quality of an institution? As it turns out, data from the (2018-19) Carnegie Classifications of Institutions of Higher Education detail the salaries that colleges and universities pay their faculty (available at data.chronicle.com). It’s therefore possible to rank these schools by the salaries they pay their faculty.

The data on faculty salaries cover not only full professors, but also associate and assistant professors as well as instructors and lecturers. Since the senior faculty at an institution best define it, we therefore focused on full professors in this ranking of colleges and universities by salary.

If we simply ranked these schools by the average salaries of their full professors, we would be repeating a ranking readily available at the Chronicle of Higher Education and through the Carnegie Classifications. We repeat this ranking here, for the top 100 schools by salary, because it shows which schools are paying the most to their senior faculty.

Nonetheless, we also regard such a ranking as inadequate, even from a purely monetary perspective, because certain parts of the country are far more expensive to live in than others. The same amount of money earned from one school will go a lot farther than money from another school.

Thus, after ranking the top 100 colleges and universities simply in terms of average salary of full professors, we then rank the top 100 colleges by salary as corrected by the cost-of-living index by state. As we will see in this second ranking, professors incur quite a “prestige premium” for becoming faculty at elite schools.

The Top Colleges and Universities by Faculty Salary (Unadjusted)

Jump to faculty salaries adjusted by cost of living

Schools The Top Colleges and Universities by Faculty Salary (Unadjusted)
RankSchoolTypeFocusSalary
1Stanford University, California4-year privateResearch (highest)$254,232
2Princeton University, New Jersey4-year privateResearch (highest)$248,252
3University of Chicago, Illinois4-year privateResearch (highest)$247,117
4Yale University, Connecticut4-year privateResearch (highest)$236,442
5Harvard University, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$235,604
6Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$232,216
7Columbia University in the City of New York, New York4-year privateResearch (highest)$223,716
8University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania4-year privateResearch (highest)$223,693
9University of California-Los Angeles, California4-year publicResearch (highest)$216,977
10Northwestern University, Illinois4-year privateResearch (highest)$214,273
11Georgetown University, District of Columbia4-year privateResearch (highest)$208,442
12California Institute of Technology, California4-year privateResearch (highest)$207,794
13New York University, New York4-year privateResearch (highest)$205,079
14Duke University, North Carolina4-year privateResearch (highest)$201,860
15Washington University in St Louis, Missouri4-year privateResearch (highest)$201,104
16University of California-Berkeley, California4-year publicResearch (highest)$199,618
17Rice University, Texas4-year privateResearch (highest)$195,897
18Vanderbilt University, Tennessee4-year privateResearch (highest)$193,619
19Dartmouth College, New Hampshire4-year privateResearch (high)$191,230
20Boston College, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$188,459
21Boston University, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$188,274
22University of California-Santa Barbara, California4-year publicResearch (highest)$187,459
23University of California-San Diego, California4-year publicResearch (highest)$187,109
24University of Notre Dame, Indiana4-year privateResearch (highest)$185,719
25Brown University, Rhode Island4-year privateResearch (highest)$185,331
26University of Southern California, California4-year privateResearch (highest)$184,286
27Northeastern University, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$183,583
28George Washington University, District of Columbia4-year privateResearch (highest)$182,256
29University of California-Irvine, California4-year publicResearch (highest)$181,122
30Cornell University, New York4-year privateResearch (highest)$179,893
31Emory University, Georgia4-year privateResearch (highest)$179,478
32Teachers College at Columbia University, New York4-year privateResearch (high)$176,889
33Barnard College, New York4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$175,867
34Bentley University, Massachusetts4-year privateMaster’s (large)$175,113
35University of Virginia-Main Campus, Virginia4-year publicResearch (highest)$174,539
36University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Michigan4-year publicResearch (highest)$174,125
37American University, District of Columbia4-year privateResearch (high)$172,491
38Fordham University, New York4-year privateResearch (high)$171,888
39Southern Methodist University, Texas4-year privateResearch (high)$170,934
40Claremont McKenna College, California4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$170,717
41Johns Hopkins University, Maryland4-year privateResearch (highest)$169,266
42Yeshiva University, New York4-year privateResearch (high)$169,200
43The University of Texas at Austin, Texas4-year publicResearch (highest)$168,499
44University of California-Santa Cruz, California4-year publicResearch (highest)$168,432
45Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (high)$166,707
46Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania4-year privateResearch (highest)$166,297
47New Jersey Institute of Technology, New Jersey4-year publicResearch (high)$165,248
48University of California-Riverside, California4-year publicResearch (highest)$165,216
49University of Miami, Florida4-year privateResearch (highest)$165,087
50University of California-Davis, California4-year publicResearch (highest)$164,946
51University of Rochester, New York4-year privateResearch (highest)$164,398
52Rutgers University-Newark, New Jersey4-year publicResearch (high)$164,011
53Lehigh University, Pennsylvania4-year privateResearch (high)$161,742
54Santa Clara University, California4-year privateMaster’s (large)$161,581
55University of Richmond, Virginia4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$160,994
56University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina4-year publicResearch (highest)$160,643
57The University of Texas at Dallas, Texas4-year publicResearch (highest)$160,346
58Wellesley College, Massachusetts4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$160,340
59University of California-Merced, California4-year publicResearch (high)$159,981
60Pomona College, California4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$159,303
61Arizona State University-West, Arizona4-year publicMaster’s (medium)$158,900
62University of Maryland-College Park, Maryland4-year publicResearch (highest)$157,249
63Amherst College, Massachusetts4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$156,627
64Wesleyan University, Connecticut4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$155,752
65Tufts University, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$155,383
66Drexel University, Pennsylvania4-year privateResearch (high)$155,334
67University of Delaware, Delaware4-year publicResearch (highest)$155,259
68Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$154,377
69University of Houston, Texas4-year publicResearch (highest)$154,246
70Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey4-year privateResearch (high)$154,153
71Michigan State University, Michigan4-year publicResearch (highest)$153,793
72CUNY Graduate School and University Center, New York4-year publicResearch (highest)$153,791
73Tulane University of Louisiana, Louisiana4-year privateResearch (highest)$153,249
74Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York4-year privateResearch (high)$152,837
75Harvey Mudd College, California4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$152,278
76University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Massachusetts4-year publicResearch (highest)$152,053
77University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus, Pennsylvania4-year publicResearch (highest)$151,956
78University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois4-year publicResearch (highest)$151,589
79Brandeis University, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$151,575
80Wake Forest University, North Carolina4-year privateResearch (high)$151,226
81Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus, Georgia4-year publicResearch (highest)$150,740
82Colgate University, New York4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$150,564
83Case Western Reserve University, Ohio4-year privateResearch (highest)$150,010
84Rutgers University-New Brunswick, New Jersey4-year publicResearch (highest)$149,892
85Bowdoin College, Maine4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$149,754
86Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus, Pennsylvania4-year publicResearch (highest)$149,472
87University of Washington-Seattle Campus, Washington4-year publicResearch (highest)$149,268
88The University of Alabama, Alabama4-year publicResearch (high)$149,265
89Colorado School of Mines, Colorado4-year publicResearch (high)$148,322
90Stony Brook University, New York4-year publicResearch (highest)$148,014
91Arizona State University-Tempe, Arizona4-year publicResearch (highest)$147,776
92Lafayette College, Pennsylvania4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$147,735
93Texas A & M University-College Station, Texas4-year publicResearch (highest)$147,703
94Texas Christian University, Texas4-year privateResearch (high)$147,678
95Williams College, Massachusetts4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$147,644
96University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Massachusetts4-year publicResearch (high)$147,542
97University of Florida, Florida4-year publicResearch (highest)$147,350
98Soka University of America, California4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$147,171
99University of Connecticut, Connecticut4-year publicResearch (highest)$147,066
100Hofstra University, New York4-year privateResearch$146,377

This ranking of the top 100 schools by faculty salary correlates nicely with many standard rankings of the top colleges and universities (including our own custom college rankings). That should not be surprising. After all, it makes sense that the better schools would pay their faculty more, and that the better faculty would tend to teach and do research at the schools that pay them more.

Still, there are some interesting patterns in this ranking. Private schools tend to rank ahead of public schools, paying their faculty more, at least among elite institutions. Full-fledged research universities offering a range of doctorate degrees tend to pay their faculty more than top four-year colleges.

Thus the top-paying research university is Stanford, on average paying its senior faculty $254,000. But to get to a top four-year school on this list means going down to number 33 spot, which is Barnard College at $176,000. There are only 14 four-year colleges on this list, the rest being full-fledged research universities.

The Cost-of-Living Correction

The cost-of-living index indicates how expensive it is to live in one state versus another. To calculate the index, one computes the average cost of living across the United States, which corresponds to the number 100, and then one adds or subtracts how much less or more expensive it is to live in that state. The cost-of-living index is readily available online: see the one at World Population Review.

Jump to faculty salaries adjusted by cost of living

The most expensive state in which to live is Hawaii, with an index of 192.9 (which rounds up to 193). The state which is closest to the national average in cost of living is South Dakota, with an index of 99.8 (which rounds up to 100). So, for every $100 you spend in South Dakota, you would, on average, expect to spend $193 in Hawaii. It makes sense that Hawaii would be so much more expensive given that that just about anything except pineapples needs to be imported from the mainland.

For the purposes of this article, the cost of living indexes for California, New York, and Massachusetts become particularly important. Seventeen schools on this list are from California, thirteen are from New York, and fourteen are from Massachusetts. Their respective cost-of-living indexes are 151.7, 139.1, and 131.6. Other states with schools appearing on this list that have a high cost-of-living index include Washington DC (index = 156.5), Connecticut (index = 127.7), Maryland (index = 129.7), and New Jersey (index = 125.1). Together, these states account for almost 60 of the schools listed on the previous list.

Suppose now we divided all these average school salaries (and those now listed) by the cost-of-living index of the state in which the school is located. Let’s treat the cost-of-living index as a percentage, so dividing by it yields the effective purchasing power of a salary across the United States. Essentially, dividing by the cost-of-living index therefore indicates the adjusted salary that corresponds to what a school is effectively paying its senior faculty.

A cost-of-living index over 100 is therefore going to pull the effective salary down from the nominal salary (as it appears on the previous list). Schools in California and other states with high cost-of-living index will therefore drop considerably, some off the list entirely. On the other hand, states like Tennessee (index = 88.7), Georgia (index = 89.2), Texas (index = 91.5), Illinois (index = 94.5), Pennsylvania (index = 101.7) will see their top schools perform very well with this adjustment to salary.

The change in ranking of colleges and universities that results from adjusting raw salary by cost of living makes for a striking change in the rankings. The number one school on the unadjusted ranking was Stanford. It now drops to number twenty-five. California schools, of which there had been seventeen now drop to two. Other states with a high cost of living also show a precipitous drop in the rankings of their top schools. New York drops from thirteen to two schools, Massachusetts drops from fourteen to five. The number of colleges that rank in the top 100 when salaries are adjusted now drops from fourteen to seven.

On the other hand, states with schools having a low cost-of-living index now do very well. Texas, which on the unadjusted list had seven schools now has twelve. Illinois, which had three on the unadjusted list, now has seven. Moreover, two of its schools now land at the number one and number three positions (University of Chicago and Northwestern University, respectively).

Among the top ten in this adjusted ranking, big winners include Washington University (Missouri), Vanderbilt, Rice, Duke, Notre Dame, and Emory. The only Ivies to make the top ten are University of Pennsylvania and Princeton, with Princeton at number ten.

The Prestige Premium

What’s the lesson in all this? The lesson is twofold: (1) faculty are willing to forgo a significant portion of their real or effective salary in order to be associated with prestigious institutions (e.g., the Ivies and the big California schools, as in our first ranking); (2) schools that pay their faculty a higher effective wage are undervalued in conventional academic rankings and deserve a second look.

It seems that faculty take a cut in real or effective salary in order to be associated with a more prestigious schools, such as a Yale rather than a Vanderbilt or a Columbia rather than a Notre Dame. This cut can be described as a “prestige premium,” where the prestige premium offsets the loss of effective salary.

The contrast between unadjusted and adjusted rankings given above is instructive, and schools that do particularly well in the adjusted rankings deserve our attention, if only because faculty at these schools may be preferring real value over prestige. In fact, these schools probably deserve even more attention than our adjusted rankings suggest.

That’s because many of the elite schools are located in cities where the cost of housing is prohibitive, so much so that the cost-of-living index for the state doesn’t even begin to reflect the financial challenges of housing in those cities.

California may have a cost-of-living index of 151.7, compared to that of Illinois, which is at 94.5. But the two top schools in Illinois are in the Chicago area (University of Chicago and Northwestern University), and the median cost of a house in Chicago is about $291,000 whereas the median cost in Los Angeles is $883,000. In San Francisco it is $1,471,000. In Palo Alto, right next to Stanford, the median cost of a house is $3,325,000 (for these median housing costs, see BestPlaces.net).

At the very least, these rankings based on unadjusted and adjusted salaries are interesting. Certainly, they pick out schools that by any other standards are solid and noteworthy. Whether these salary-based rankings should affect where one decides to attend school as an undergrad or grad student is debatable. But it’s certainly additional information one may want to consider.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway, here, however is for prospective faculty deciding where to settle their roots. Raw or unadjusted salary (the first ranking in this article) certainly seems like an unreliable guide for choosing to take a faculty position at a school. The effective or adjusted salary (the second ranking in this article) is, we would suggest, better if financial considerations alone are in play.

Of course, especially at top-tier research universities, the main consideration for prospective faculty persons is to find a school and department where they can thrive and where they have close colleagues. But where two schools are equivalent on research potential and collegiality, choossing a higher effective or adjusted salary, especially in the face of the prestige premium, may be the wiser course.

One Chicago accountant noted that many of her clients who had gone to California returned to Chicago because “they got tired of using most of their income to service their mortgage.” The top schools on our adjusted salary list avoid paying undue homage to the prestige premium.

Back to top.

The Top Colleges and Universities by Faculty Salary (Adjusted by Cost of Living)

The Top Colleges and Universities by Faculty Salary (Adjusted by Cost of Living)
RankSchoolTypeFocusSalary
1University of Chicago, Illinois4-year privateResearch (highest)$261,499
2Washington University in St Louis, Missouri4-year privateResearch (highest)$230,889
3Northwestern University, Illinois4-year privateResearch (highest)$226,744
4University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania4-year privateResearch (highest)$219,954
5Vanderbilt University, Tennessee4-year privateResearch (highest)$218,285
6Rice University, Texas4-year privateResearch (highest)$214,095
7Duke University, North Carolina4-year privateResearch (highest)$212,708
8University of Notre Dame, Indiana4-year privateResearch (highest)$206,354
9Emory University, Georgia4-year privateResearch (highest)$201,209
10Princeton University, New Jersey4-year privateResearch (highest)$198,443
11University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Michigan4-year publicResearch (highest)$195,866
8Southern Methodist University, Texas4-year privateResearch (high)$186,813
13Yale University, Connecticut4-year privateResearch (highest)$185,154
14The University of Texas at Austin, Texas4-year publicResearch (highest)$184,152
15Harvard University, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$179,030
16Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$176,456
17The University of Texas at Dallas, Texas4-year publicResearch (highest)$175,242
18Dartmouth College, New Hampshire4-year privateResearch (high)$174,321
19University of Virginia-Main Campus, Virginia4-year publicResearch (highest)$173,326
20Michigan State University, Michigan4-year publicResearch (highest)$172,996
21University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina4-year publicResearch (highest)$169,276
22Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus, Georgia4-year publicResearch (highest)$168,991
23University of Miami, Florida4-year privateResearch (highest)$168,628
24University of Houston, Texas4-year publicResearch (highest)$168,575
25Stanford University, California4-year privateResearch (highest)$167,589
26The University of Alabama, Alabama4-year publicResearch (high)$167,150
27Case Western Reserve University, Ohio4-year privateResearch (highest)$165,209
28Arizona State University-West, Arizona4-year publicMaster’s (medium)$163,814
29Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania4-year privateResearch (highest)$163,517
8Tulane University of Louisiana, Louisiana4-year privateResearch (highest)$163,204
31Texas A & M University-College Station, Texas4-year publicResearch (highest)$161,424
32Texas Christian University, Texas4-year privateResearch (high)$161,397
33Columbia University in the City of New York, New York4-year privateResearch (highest)$160,831
34University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois4-year publicResearch (highest)$160,412
35University of Richmond, Virginia4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$159,875
36Purdue University-Main Campus, Indiana4-year publicResearch (highest)$159,757
37The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Indiana4-year publicResearch (highest)$159,487
38Wake Forest University, North Carolina4-year publicResearch (high)$159,353
39Lehigh University, Pennsylvania4-year publicResearch (high)$159,038
40Ohio State University-Main Campus, Ohio4-year publicResearch (highest)$157,826
41Grinnell College, Iowa4-year publicBacc. (arts & sciences)$156,850
42Brown University, Rhode Island4-year privateResearch (highest)$155,219
43University of Illinois at Chicago, Illinois4-year publicResearch (highest)$154,537
44University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama4-year publicResearch (highest)$152,819
45Drexel University, Pennsylvania4-year privateResearch (high)$152,737
46Arizona State University-Tempe, Arizona4-year publicResearch (highest)$152,346
47Loyola University Chicago, Illinois4-year privateResearch (high)$151,965
48Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$151,796
49University of Florida, Florida4-year publicResearch (highest)$150,511
50Illinois Institute of Technology, Illinois4-year privateResearch (high)$149,821
51University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus, Pennsylvania4-year publicResearch (highest)$149,416
52University of Central Florida, Florida4-year publicResearch (highest)$149,411
53Wayne State University, Michigan4-year publicResearch (highest)$147,989
54New York University, New York4-year privateResearch (highest)$147,433
55Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus, Pennsylvania4-year publicResearch (highest)$146,973
56Missouri University of Science and Technology, Missouri4-year publicResearch (high)$146,338
57University of Arkansas, Arkansas4-year publicResearch (highest)$146,320
58Lafayette College, Pennsylvania4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$145,265
59Iowa State University, Iowa4-year publicResearch (highest)$144,717
60Auburn University, Alabama4-year publicResearch (high)$143,699
61University of Delaware, Indiana4-year publicResearch (highest)$143,625
62Temple University, Pennsylvania4-year publicResearch (highest)$143,422
63University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus, Oklahoma4-year publicResearch (highest)$143,368
64Boston College, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$143,206
65University of Georgia, Georgia4-year publicResearch (highest)$143,078
66Boston University, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$143,065
67University of California-Los Angeles, California4-year publicResearch (highest)$143,030
68Villanova University, Pennsylvania4-year privateResearch$142,775
69University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama4-year publicResearch (high)$142,750
70University of South Florida-Sarasota-Manatee, Florida4-year publicMaster’s (small)$142,208
71Washington and Lee University, Virginia4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$142,110
72University of Iowa, Iowa4-year publicResearch (highest)$141,989
73Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Great Valley, Pennsylvania4-year publicMaster’s (large)$141,808
74Indiana University-Bloomington, Indiana4-year publicResearch (highest)$141,768
75University of South Carolina-Columbia, South Carolina4-year publicResearch (highest)$141,715
76DePaul University, Illinois4-year privateResearch$141,550
77University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska4-year publicResearch (highest)$141,297
78University of Kansas, Kansas4-year publicResearch (highest)$140,982
79Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia4-year publicResearch (highest)$140,847
80Miami University-Oxford, Ohio4-year publicResearch (high)$140,709
81Florida State University, Florida4-year publicResearch (highest)$140,619
82Colorado School of Mines, Colorado4-year publicResearch (high)$140,456
83University of Missouri-Columbia, Missouri4-year publicResearch (highest)$140,451
84St. Mary’s University, Texas4-year privateMaster’s (large)$140,315
85The University of Texas at Arlington, Texas4-year publicResearch (highest)$140,294
86Davidson College, North Carolina4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$140,251
87University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Minnesota4-year publicResearch (highest)$140,170
88University of Tulsa, Oklahoma4-year privateResearch (high)$139,822
89Clemson University, South Carolina4-year publicResearch (highest)$139,821
90Northeastern University, Massachusetts4-year privateResearch (highest)$139,501
91University of Utah, Utah4-year publicResearch (highest)$139,382
92Florida International University, Florida4-year publicResearch (highest)$139,316
93University of Arizona, Arizona4-year publicResearch (highest)$139,065
94Baylor University, Texas4-year publicResearch (high)$139,031
95Arizona State University-Skysong, Arizona4-year publicResearch$138,833
96University of Cincinnati-Main Campus, Ohio4-year publicResearch (highest)$138,441
97Texas Tech University, Texas4-year publicResearch (highest)$137,926
98George Mason University, Virginia4-year publicResearch (highest)$137,458
99Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania4-year privateBacc. (arts & sciences)$137,433
100The University of Texas at San Antonio, Texas4-year publicResearch (high)$137,304