It pays to stay in school, especially when you are doing the teaching. Faculty and staff at accredited U.S. universities are among the handful of remaining American workers who still receive excellent pensions along with high base pay. In fact, pay and benefits for academic posts grew during the most recent recession. The reasons for this are clear; it is difficult to open an accredited school, so university posts are limited. Meanwhile, pent-up demand for college degrees means schools can charge high tuition costs and pay attractive salaries without losing students.
Average salaries for certain teaching or administrative positions exceed $100,000 per year. The highest earners are paid millions of dollars, and sometimes for just nine months of work. You often need to clear a high threshold to get one of these spots; most of these jobs require advanced degrees and years of quality work in the field, plus the right connections.
Law Teachers, Postsecondary
Legal training is in a transitory period. After decades of swollen ranks, enrollment in law schools plummeted after the Great Recession. Bar exam pass rates also fell, and many J.D.-awarded graduates find themselves without direction in crowded specialties. Fortunately for law professors, these troubles seem to stop short of academic posts.
Median wage rates for tenured American instructors exceed $140,000 per year, plus another 5% in pension contributions. This is by far the highest-paying teaching field, edging out engineers and business management by more than $20,000 on average. The top 25% of law professors averaged $216,465 during 2015. The top 10% averaged over $270,000, a rate reached by just 0.1% of non-law professors.
Senior-Level Administrative Staff
College administrative expenses grew by 60% between 1993 and 2009, according to Department of Education figures. That rate relaxed a little between 2010 and 2015, but there is no question that bloated administrations are partially to blame for rising tuition rates. While this is bad news for student loans, it is likely very good news for college administrative jobs, the most lucrative of which earn above $200,000 per year.
The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources conducted a higher education salary survey for the 2015-2016 school year from over 1,100 reporting institutions. It identified dozens of administrative positions with median pay above $100,000 per year and intact benefits. The average provost, for example, brought home $193,136 and a comfortable 4.6% pension rate. College chief financial officers (CFOs) averaged $175,000.
Specialized deans were among the most compensated. The typical dean of agriculture made $251,000. The salary was $210,000 for architecture, $231,000 for computer and information services, $217,000 for forestry and environmental studies, $312,000 for law, $337,000 for dentistry and an estimated $500,000 for medicine.
Even non-deans reported excellent salaries, and frequently pension contributions above 4% of base pay. A position entitled chief diversity officer had a median pay above $120,000 per year. Chief library officers earned just under $100,000, and the chief campus major gifts administrators earned above $104,000.
Engineering Teachers, Postsecondary
It is generally a good idea to study engineering. Every year, engineering dominates the top 10 paying majors for American graduates. It is also a good idea to return to school and teach engineering students. This is true for computer engineers, chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and petroleum engineers. The median pay for generic engineering professors is approximately $120,000, but specialists at engineering schools can do much better.
For example, the average effective annual salary reported for professors at the Colorado School of Mines during the 2013-2014 school year was $177,588. This was more than twice the average salary for all American professors in 2015-2016. The top-paying schools in America, for engineering or otherwise, include Dartmouth, Boston College, Georgetown, Duke, Princeton, MIT, Penn, Yale, Columbia, NYU, Harvard and the University of Chicago.