Thirty-six presidents were paid more than $1 million each in 2009, the latest year for which figures were available, up from 33 the previous year.
Alfred H. Bloom, who led Swarthmore for 18 years until retiring in 2009, was paid $1.7 million that year, ranking him eighth among the presidents of private institutions nationwide. College officials said the figure was misleading, however, because it included retirement benefits and payments in lieu of sabbaticals.
The previous year, Bloom was paid $536,844, according to Suzanne Welsh, the college's treasurer and vice president of finance. "That figure is more indicative of his base salary," she said. The larger sum paid in 2009 reflected accrued salary and benefits for which the school had budgeted for years, she said.
University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann was paid $1.3 million, ranking her 20th in the nation, according to the survey.
Gutmann's pay has drawn criticism from students and members of Occupy Penn, an offshoot of the Wall Street protest group. In a letter last month to the student newspaper, the Daily Pennsylvanian, one Penn senior called Gutmann's salary a "disgrace."
University officials defended Gutmann's compensation and praised her work.
"In the view of the trustees, Amy Gutmann is the best university president in the country," said David L. Cohen, chairman of the board of trustees. He said her pay reflected her "exceptional performance" in leading the university and its health system, with an annual budget of more than $6 billion.
Drexel University officials had similar praise for Papadakis. In a statement, Drexel spokeswoman Niki Gianakaris called Papadakis "an innovative leader who transformed a struggling institution into a comprehensive, top-ranked national research university."
Of the $4.9 million the university paid out in 2009, she said, $4.2 million was life insurance and deferred compensation paid to Papadakis' family.
Other top earners were William R. Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University, who was paid $3.8 million; Donald V. DeRosa, president of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., $2.3 million; Northwestern University president Henry S. Bienen, $2.2 million; and Vanderbilt University president Nicholas S. Zeppos, $1.8 million.
A new entry on the list of top 10 earners was Charles H. Polk, president of the struggling Mountain State University in southern West Virginia. Polk, who leads an institution that has accreditation problems and a graduation rate among the lowest in the nation, was paid $1.8 million last year. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported $1 million of that sum was a one-time payment of a fully vested retirement package.
In addition to the salary survey, which was based on a review of federal tax documents, the chronicle compared presidents' salaries to those of college professors. On average, schools spend 3.7 times a professor's salary on their presidents.
Even in a difficult economy, the survey found that presidents' salaries held steady from the previous year.
Jack Stripling, one of the survey authors, said that was largely because of multiyear contracts. "It's nice work if you can get it," he said. "They are kind of impervious to economic pressures."
He noted that the salary survey did not take into account gestures some college presidents had made as concessions to the financial pressures on students, such as forgoing bonuses or giving scholarships.
Gutmann, for example, has donated awards and honoraria to the university, and, with her husband, endowed a scholarship for undergraduates.
Contact staff writer Nancy Phillips at 215-854-2254, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @PhillipsNancy on Twitter.