It could come as a surprise to many University of Rhode Island students and Rhode Island taxpayers to learn that the list of top-earning state workers does not include any top legislators or even the state’s chief executive, Governor Lincoln Chafee.

Instead, three of the top four are URI administrators, led by men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley and university President David Dooley with a combined salary of nearly $1 million. Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald DeHayes comes in fourth on the list, following Ray Di Pasquale, the president of the Community College of Rhode Island.

Top education administrators and especially institution’s athletic coaches are a common sight on the top of state payroll across the country. According to the sports news site Deadspin.com, during the 2013 fiscal year, 27 states awarded their highest paychecks to college football coaches, and 13 paid it to basketball coaches – including Rhode Island.

According to URI’s Director of Athletics Thorr Bjorn, Hurley’s salary is a necessity of the market. “It’s a competitive market and that’s really why they get paid decently,” he said. Hurley receives $300,000 as a base salary, plus an additional $327,500 made up of a percentage of ticket sales and radio and television ad revenue. The $627,500 total for fiscal year 2014 is a result of URI attempting to compete with other offers in an effort to recruit who they see as the right man for the job.

“Our package for Coach Hurley is very consistent with other A-10 schools,” he said. According to USA Today, which catalogs the salaries of all the coaches in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Hurley’s salary is far less than Virginia Commonwealth University’s Shaka Smart, at a staggering $1,520,000, and the University of Massachusetts’ Derek Kellog, at $761,358 – both A-10 competitors.

Dooley’s $368,000 salary is also very consistent with the salaries of other presidents at similar public universities. When compared to other New England state schools (the Universities of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine), Dooley is paid more than only one other president. Similarly, it comes down to competing to hire the best and the brightest in a market that averages more that $400,000 in total compensation. Higher education salaries are often described as less of a luxury and more of a competitive necessity.

“If you looked at it objectively, you would see that neither [Dooley nor Hurley’s salary] is excessive in comparison with other schools,” Frank Annuziato, the executive director of URI’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said. The average full professor at URI makes approximately $105,600, and according to Annuziato, professors haven’t been given a major raise in years. Still, they understand the necessity of Dooley’s salary towards hiring a quality chief executive. “We would like to see, obviously, faculty make more money because we’re at the bottom when you compare us to other similar institutions, but we don’t begrudge the administration from making that money,” he explained.

President Dooley himself has in the past called for higher salaries for faculty members, citing URI’s professors as having the second lowest salaries of professors in the same New England universities. According to statistics compiled by the American Association for University Professors, the average full professor salary at URI is beaten by all but the University of Maine’s.

In many cases, professor and president salaries, as well as school tuition fall in line in those six schools. URI is ranked 4th or 5th across the board, showing a strong relationship between all of those economic factors. A full breakdown of all the numbers used in this comparison can be found here.