For college presidents and chancellors, it pays to work in Texas. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education on Sunday released its annual list of public university executive pay. Three of the nation's top four highest paid university presidents or chancellors work for Texas schools, according to the report. 

University of Houston System Chancellor Renu Khator earned the most in the country, making $1.3 million in total compensation. Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young came in third at $1.13 million and University of Texas System Chancellor Bill McRaven was fourth with $1.09 million. 

The only non-Texas leader in the top four was Michael Gottfredson, the former president of the University of Oregon. His $1.2 million pay was unusually high in 2015 due to a reported $940,000 buyout after his abrupt departure in August 2014. 

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Compensation was for the 2015 fiscal year, and included base pay, bonuses, severance pay and deferred compensation. Private university presidents were not included in the list. The median take-home pay for college chief executives on the list was $431,000, according to the publication. 

Next year, more Texans will likely be near the top. A&M System Chancellor John Sharp received a massive raise last year, bumping his annual salary to $900,000 plus performance incentives. UT-Austin President Greg Fenves, who was hired in 2015, earns a $750,000 salary. 

Texas university leaders have always been well paid, but their compensation has jumped sharply in recent years. In April, The Texas Tribune reported that total pay has grown 70 percent for the chancellors of the state's six university systems and the presidents of those systems' namesake schools. When all compensation is accounted for, there are now four top-level public university administrators making more than $1 million per year. (That number is much higher when accounting for athletics coaches and administrators in medical schools.) 

Read More Pay is Climbing Fast for Texas University Leaders

The pay is rising as Texas strives to grow the prestige of its top public universities and bring more into the top tier. Khator in particular has worked hard to raise the stature of the University of Houston, where she serves as a joint appointment as the chancellor of the system and president of the flagship campus.

But the pay has also gained the attention of some state leaders who are frustrated with high spending at public universities. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has urged schools to cut costs, and to look at executive pay as ripe for the slashing. 

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“If you go into higher education,” he said at a press conference in the Capitol this year, “you don’t do it to get rich and make a million dollars per year.”

Disclosure: The University of Houston, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas System have been financial sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Meet Paige: Our new Facebook Messenger bot helps you keep track of the 85th Legislature. Subscribe by messaging HELLO to m.me/texastribune.org. Learn more.

Show 12 comments
Republish This Story

Find out how you can put this story on your website.

Be a citizen, not a spectator.

Become a member today and support our nonprofit newsroom.