The Chronicle of Higher Education reported its review of the salary and benefits paid to 448 private college presidents was based on federal tax documents for 2008, the latest period available.
Topping the list was the late Bernard Lander, founder of Touro College in New York. Lander, who died in February, received a compensation package of $4,786,830. The total included $4.2 million in retroactive compensation for pay and retirement benefits, the Washington newspaper said.
No. 2 was John R. Brazil, who received $2,777,653 from Trinity University in Texas. He retired in January.
The highest-paid sitting president was R. Gerald Turner of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who earned $2,774,000 in total compensation. The school said his compensation was unusually high because he cashed out a life-insurance policy and bought his own policy, accounting for $1.5 million of his total.
Rounding out the Top 10 were Nicholas S. Zeppos of Vanderbilt University, $2,407,588, Steven B. Sample of the University of Southern California, $1,913,927, John L. Lahey of Quinnipiac University, $1,845,427, Lee C. Bollinger of Columbia University, $1,753,984, Shirley Ann Jackson of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, $1,655,630, the late Constantine N. Papadakis of Drexel University, $1,626,092, and Steadman Upham of the University of Tulsa, $1,626,092.
The Chronicle said changes in Internal Revenue Service reporting requirements means most dollar amounts overlap amounts reported the previous year and therefore can't be compared with previous years.
However, the newspaper said as recently as 2004 there were no million-dollar private college presidents and by last year there were 23, using the reporting requirements in effect at the time.
The Chronicle said compensation experts say large, one-time payments will continue to determine the top-earning presidents in the coming years as many are baby boomers who will receive large payouts upon retirement.
Colleges also likely will see compensation packages rise as they compete for top talent to replace those retiring leaders, the Chronicle said.