Women have been present in academia for a long time. Laura Bassi, an 18th-century Italian academic and physicist at the University of Bologna, is widely hailed as the first modern female university professor. Sarah Jane Woodson Early, one of the first female professors in the US, as well as one of the first African American women to be a full professor, taught Latin and English at Wilberforce University in the latter half of the 1800s. Oberlin College, a private college in Ohio, was the first coeducational higher education organization in the United States. Founded in 1833, the school began with an inaugural class of 29 men and 15 women. The 1930s were a decade of great change for women in academia in the US; many schools allowed female students during this time and the number of female college students grew exponentially.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in fall 2016, there were 1,548,732 instructional faculty members employed by degree-granting post-secondary institutions. Of that number, 49.3% of instructors identified as women. So, nearly half of today’s professors are women. Bassi, Woodson Early, and the first women at Oberlin College would likely be proud, and maybe even surprised, right?
Possibly, but there are still significant disparities in what female college professors get paid, their status in the university system, their job stability, and the tasks assigned to them. Though efforts have been made to ensure equitable pay in higher education in recent years, a wage gap exists between male and female academics. Much of this can be attributed to the hierarchy in academic professorships, a subject which we'll explore in more detail in a piece scheduled to publish next week. (Stay tuned!) For now, simply bear in mind that within the academic hierarchy, men hold the majority of full professorships, while women fill more of the assistant professor, instructor, and lecturer positions, which contributes directly to wage inequality throughout the system of higher education.
The Chronicle of Higher Education provides data on university salaries and offers a searchable database tool, Chronicle Data. The average salaries listed in this article for each school come from Chronicle Data. It is also important to note that women in higher education make less than men on average, while both men and women of color make less than white women. A study conducted in 2017 by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) found that women and ethnic minorities continue to face disadvantages in higher education, both in representation and pay [PDF]. In academia, if the median pay for white men is $1, it is 81¢ for white women, 72¢ for men of color, and 67¢ for women of color.
Highest-Paying Colleges and Universities
Individual salary data for the highest-paid female academics was unavailable, so this list was created by identifying highly ranked, top-performing female professors at each of the ten highest-paying universities in the US, according to salary information from the 2016–2017 school year.
For each entry, we’ve listed the average salary for all professors at the school mentioned, as well as the average salary for female professors at each school.
In the majority of profiles, female professors make less than their male counterparts — but at a few of the schools on this list, the average salary for women professors is slightly higher than the school's average for all professors.
Elizabeth L. Travis
- University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center – Houston, TX
- Associate Vice President for Women and Minority Faculty Inclusion
- Mattie Allen Fair Professor in Cancer Research
Dr. Elizabeth L. Travis holds multiple positions at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the only public institution to earn inclusion on our list of highest-paying colleges and universities.
In her position as Associate Vice President for Women and Minority Faculty, Dr. Travis works to create programs and policies that support the recruitment, promotion, and retention of women faculty in senior ranks and leadership positions. Her book, Legends and Legacies: Personal journeys of women physicians and scientists at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center profiles 26 accomplished female faculty members at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Dr. Travis has been a faculty member at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center since 1982 and is a distinguished biomedical researcher in the area of radiation oncology. Dr. Travis has written chapters on the lung complications related to cancer therapy for many textbooks and has authored more than 125 original publications.
- Stanford University – Stanford, CA
- Professor of Political Economy in the Graduate School of Business
- Professor of Political Science
- Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution
- Senior Fellow, by courtesy, at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
Dr. Condoleezza Rice is a familiar name in many American households, because of her work as former U.S. Secretary of State from 2002–2009. Dr. Rice was the second woman and first African American woman ever appointed to the position. She has held a number of positions at Stanford University, before and after her work in the White House. Dr. Rice has been a faculty member at Stanford since 1981, worked as the university’s provost from 1993–1999, and currently teaches political science and economics courses for the Graduate School of Business.
Dr. Rice is also very active in the business world. She is a founding partner at RiceHadleyGates, LLC, an international strategic consulting firm, and serves on the boards of several organizations, including Dropbox, the George W. Bush Institute, the Commonwealth Club, the Aspen Institute, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Dr. Rice has an extensive publishing record, including two books about her life: No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington and Condoleezza Rice: A Memoir of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Family and Me. She has also authored and co-authored several books about politics and history, including Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom, Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft with Philip Zelikow, and The Gorbachev Era with Alexander Dallin.
- University of Chicago – Chicago, IL
- Senior Lecturer in Law
Judge Diane Wood is another professor with a career in the political realm, though instead of working in the executive branch, Judge Wood serves in the U.S. government’s judicial branch as Chief Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Since 1995, Judge Wood has worked both as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals and a lecturer at the University of Chicago. She also served as Associate Dean for the University of Chicago Law School from 1989–1992.
Judge Wood has co-authored numerous textbooks, including Antitrust Law and Trade Regulation, Cases and Materials and Trade Regulation: Cases and Materials. Her research interests include international and general antitrust, federal civil procedure, and international trade and business. She has taught courses in all three of these fields.
- Harvard University – Cambridge, MA
- Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science
Dr. Lisa Randall studies and teaches about theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University. She’s taught at Harvard since 2001 and currently holds a distinguished position. Dr. Randall has also taught at MIT and Princeton University. She earned her Ph.D. from Harvard, and holds honorary degrees from Brown University, Duke University, Bard College, and the University of Antwerp. Her work focuses on connecting theoretical insights to puzzles in our current understanding of matter, including its properties and interactions. Though a brilliant scientist, Dr. Randall has done important work beyond the scientific realm, writing a libretto for an opera that premiered in Paris — Hypermusic: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes — and co-curating an art exhibit — Measure for Measure — that was shown at Gallery 825 in Los Angeles, at the Guggenheim Gallery at Chapman University, and at Harvard’s Carpenter Center.
Dr. Randall has written numerous books, including two that appeared on the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of the Year — Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions and Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World. She has also given many lectures and made multiple television and radio appearances. Dr. Randall has won many awards and acknowledgements, including Time’s “100 Most Influential People” of 2007, Newsweek’s “Who’s Next in 2006” as “one of the most promising theoretical physicists of her generation,” Seed Magazine’s “2005: Year in Science Icons,” and Esquire Magazine’s “75 Most Influential People.”
Susan J. Baserga
- Yale University – New Haven, CT
- Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, of Genetics and of Therapeutic Radiology
Dr. Susan J. Baserga is a professor of molecular biophysics, biochemistry, genetics, and therapeutic radiology. She has many specialties and is also involved in other departments and organizations at Yale University, including the Center for RNA Science and Medicine, the Gene Regulation and Functional Genomics department, the Liver Center, the Radiobiology and Radiotherapy department, the Yale Cancer Center, and the Yale Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Baserga earned both her MD and Ph.D. at Yale University, and in addition to her doctoral degrees, she holds a master’s of philosophy in human genetics and a bachelor’s in biology.
Dr. Baserga’s research interests include biogenesis, genetics, molecular biology, ribonucleoproteins, radiation oncology, RNA helicases, genes, rRNA, and biochemical processes. She has won multiple awards, including the Connecticut Technology Council Women in Innovation Award and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology William C. Rose Award. In 2017, Dr. Baserga spoke at a celebration of 100 years of female students at the Yale School of Medicine. She has been actively involved in facilitating and improving the experience of women in medicine at Yale since her early years there as an undergraduate in the 1970s.
Rosalind W. Picard
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—Cambridge, MA
- Director of Affective Computing Research
- Faculty Chair, MIT Mind+Hand+Heart
Dr. Rosalind W. Picard is an electrical engineering professor at MIT. She holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and both master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT. Dr. Picard began working at MIT as a teaching and research assistant in 1987. Her research interests include affective computing, technology for health and well-being, autism technology, human-computer interaction, pattern analysis, and machine learning and intelligence.
In addition to her work in the classroom, Dr. Picard is also prolific in publishing and industry work. She has authored or co-authored over 250 scientific articles and book chapters. She is an active inventor with multiple patents for inventions that assist with autism, epilepsy, depression, PTSD, sleep, stress, dementia, autonomic nervous system disorders, human and machine learning, health behavior change, market research, customer service, and human-computer interaction. Dr. Picard isn’t stuck in the “ivory tower” of academia; she works regularly in industry jobs and has consulted for many companies, including Apple, AT&T, BT, HP, i.Robot, Merck, Motorola, and Samsung.
- University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Population Health and Health Equity Professor
Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey is a world-renowned expert in health policy and geriatric medicine who is currently researching and teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. She holds an MD from Harvard Medical School as well as a Wharton MBA and an honorary Doctor of Laws from University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey began her career at University of Pennsylvania in 1986. She went on to work at the federal level as deputy administrator of what is now the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, the White House Health Care Reform Task Force, and numerous federal advisory committees, including the Task Force on Aging Research, the National Committee for Vital and Health Statistics, and the President’s Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry.
Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey has served since 2003 as president and chief executive officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and has been appointed a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. As a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Lavizzo-Mourey has appointments in the Perelman School of Medicine's Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, in the Wharton School's Department of Health Care Management, and in the School of Nursing's Department of Family and Community Health.
Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey is well-recognized and highly decorated, having been named eight times to the Forbes list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” and nine times by Modern Healthcare as one of the “100 Most Influential People in Healthcare.” She has written and published nearly 100 articles, editorials, and book chapters.
- Princeton University – Princeton, NJ
- Professor of Architectural Design
Dr. Elizabeth Diller is a professor of architecture at Princeton University. She teaches a variety of studio classes and serves as a thesis advisor for graduate students. Additionally, Dr. Diller is a founding partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), a design studio that works in architecture, urban design, installation art, multi-media performance, digital media, and print. Dr. Diller and her co-founder, Ricardo Scofidio, were recipients of the first MacArthur Foundation fellowship awarded in the field of architecture. DS+R is responsible for two of the largest recent architecture and planning initiatives in New York City: the transformation of obsolete rail infrastructure into a 1.5 mile-long public park, the High Line; and the transformation of Lincoln Center’s half-century-old performing arts campus.
Time named Dr. Diller one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2009. Between her academic and studio work, she is very active and often works on multiple projects at once. She is currently co-directing The Mile-Long Opera, a site-specific performance with 1,000 singers staged along the High Line, and recently led three art installations that opened in May 2018 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the 2018 Venice Biennale. With her studio partners, she has two big architecture projects coming to New York City in 2019: The Shed (a new, flexible multi-arts center) and the renovation and expansion of the Museum of Modern Art.
- New York Law School – New York, NY
- John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law
Dr. Nadine Strossen is a professor at the New York Law School. She teaches several constitutional law courses and has written, taught, and advocated extensively in the areas of constitutional law and civil liberties. Dr. Strossen also served as President of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from 1991 to 2008. She was the first woman to head the ACLU, the nation’s largest and oldest civil liberties organization. She continues to serve on the organization’s National Advisory Council.
Dr. Strossen has more than 300 published works in journals, magazines, books, and more. Her book, HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship, was published in May 2018. She has won multiple awards and acknowledgements, including being named on the following lists: The National Law Journal’s “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America,” Vanity Fair’s “America’s 200 Most Influential Women,” Ladies’ Home Journal’s “America’s 100 Most Important Women,” Working Woman Magazine’s “350 Women Who Changed the World,” and Upside Magazine’s “Elite 100: 100 Executives Leading The Digital Revolution.” She has given thousands of presentations around the world, including talks on more than 500 campuses.
Madeleine K. Albright
- Georgetown University — Washington, DC
- Michael and Virginia Mortara Endowed Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy
Dr. Madeleine K. Albright is another famous political figure who also works as a high-earning female professor and academic. Dr. Albright was the first female U.S. Secretary of State, serving from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. She holds an impressive résumé in politics, having worked as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, a member of the President’s Cabinet, President of the Center for National Policy, a member of President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Council, and Chief Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Edmund S. Muskie.
Dr. Albright is an endowed and distinguished professor who teaches and studies the practice of diplomacy at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She recently published a new book, Fascism: A Warning, and is the author of five other New York Times bestsellers: her autobiography, Madam Secretary: A Memoir; The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs; Memo to the President: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership; Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box; and Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937–1948.
So there you have it, ten of the highest-paid female academics working at colleges and universities around the U.S. today. If you’re interested in learning more about highly paid college professors, check out the 10 Highest-Paid College Professors in the US. (You may notice a conspicuous lack of female representation on that list, which was the inspiration for the article you’ve just read.) If you are curious about gender and racial pay gaps, we encourage you to read about this issue, thoughtfully discuss with your professors, or maybe even major in sociology or political science so you can take courses on gender issues, patriarchy and the history of civil rights.
If you’re interested in getting on the path toward a career in academia, click here to learn more about what you can do with a degree in education.
And if you’d like to make the big bucks like the academics on this list, get started on your path toward a Ph.D. and a full professorship.