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American Council on Education

The American Council on Education (ACE) is a national association of accredited, degree-granting colleges and universities, higher education associations, and other educational organizations. ACE is the premier public voice for higher and adult education, a definer of issues, and a leader in coordinating higher education policies and in representing higher education to government. The chief executives of the 1,800 member organizations are generally the representatives to ACE.

The council seeks to create consensus on policy issues among the associations in the Washington, D.C., higher education community. One of its most important tasks is to lobby Congress and the federal agencies, presenting a coherent, unified voice for higher education on particular issues. ACE has commitments to support increases in federal aid to students and to limit the federal regulatory burdens on colleges and universities. The council promotes diversity in higher education and has engaged the issue of how to strengthen teacher education.

The council maintains an extensive research program on higher and adult education, and it offers advice to institutions on such matters as minority and women's issues and college and university administration. ACE initiated a higher education/business forum, which brings together corporate leaders and higher education executives for discussions of mutual interest, and the organization administers the General Educational Development (GED) tests for adult learners. ACE publishes a semimonthly newsletter, Higher Education and National Affairs; a triennial magazine, The Presidency; and a number of special reports; and is involved in book and guide publishing with Greenwood Publishing Group's ACE/Oryx Series on Higher Education.

The council is the leader and convener of a series of informal and formal groups, which meet to discuss issues and coordinate activities, particularly in the federal relations area. At the center of coordination and policy is the group often called the Six or the Big Six. The Six include ACE's president, as the convener, and the chief executive officers of five other Washington, D.C., associations: the Association of American Universities (AAU), the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). These represent the major sectors of accredited higher education institutions in the United States. As part of its coordinating responsibilities, ACE convenes the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, a group of more than forty-five higher education associations whose representatives meet monthly to discuss higher education issues and affairs.

The American Council on Education was founded in March 1918 as the Emergency Council on Education, a federation of fourteen national educational associations, to coordinate higher education's resources to meet national wartime needs. The presidents of colleges and universities were concerned with the unpredictability of federal government decisions that affected higher education, and they worried that wartime conditions would sharply curtail the number of students who would attend colleges and universities. In July 1918 the Emergency Council on Education changed its name to the American Council on Education. It set up a permanent Washington, D.C., office and named a director, Samuel Capen, who had been head of the federal Bureau of Education. One of his early acts was to establish the Educational Record, a quarterly journal that published articles on higher education.

From the beginning, ACE viewed itself as an umbrella organization, a vehicle that would speak for all of higher education on general education questions. Initially its members were associations of colleges and universities. ACE argued that because its membership covered all of higher education, and thus did not speak for any particular group in higher education, the council could speak for all of higher education. However, even as an association of associations, ACE offered to give financial and curricular advice to individual institutions. During the 1920s, ACE expanded its interests to include international education, attempting to give some order to a confusing field by incorporating several international education associations.

In 1919 ACE defined its membership to include colleges and universities as well as associations. This gave the association a stronger financial base, provided a means for broadening its activities, and protected it from the charge that its purposes and activities were too far removed from the problems of individual institutions. However, the decision immediately engendered charges of duplication and overlap. Institutions were now members of ACE as well as members of the other presidential associations, such as the Association of American Universities (AAU). If a university was represented to the council through its national association, for example AAU, why did the institution need to also be a member of ACE? The issue of the relationship of institution and association membership in the council was to plague ACE for many years.

In the 1930s membership in ACE brought in representatives from lower education, including state departments of education and city school systems. They were later joined by some private secondary schools and, by 1940, town school systems. Then some trade associations and business corporations became members of ACE, and the council entered into some business arrangements. These activities added to the complexity of developing coherent coordinative policies.

In 1950 ACE purchased a building on Massachusetts Avenue large enough to accommodate its growing needs and to house fifteen other major higher education associations. Another move came in 1968, when the Kellogg Foundation funded the building of the National Center for Higher Education at One Dupont Circle. More than forty associations occupied the offices, managed by the council.

Representing higher education to the federal government has always been one of the most important but difficult activities of ACE. The various sectors of higher education have regularly presented different and sometimes opposing interests they wished to foster and protect. Public and private institutions at times have been divided on the question of how federal student aid should be distributed. The interests of research-dominated, graduate institutions and the perspectives of institutions emphasizing undergraduate education have not always coincided. These and other conflicting interests reflected in the policies of the Washington, D.C., associations have made it difficult to find common ground among its members on which to present a unified position to Congress and the significant government agencies. Nevertheless, when the associations are in agreement, they can act swiftly and effectively.

For many years, the Washington, D.C., higher education associations were reluctant to enter the political arena with sustained, coordinated efforts. They and their constituents thought lobbying was unseemly for higher education, and they felt constrained by laws that restricted lobbying among nonprofit organizations to a minor part of their activities. ACE tended not to act until it had some agreement among its association and institutional members. As a result the council was often accused of reacting slowly to events and practices of great concern to its members.

The American Council on Education, in 1962, restructured the council's board to virtually eliminate association representatives and replace them with institutional representation. Also in 1962, the Secretariat, a group of higher education association members of ACE, was created, partly as a result of the lack of association representation on the ACE board.

In the 1960s ACE and the other major associations entered into intensified relations with the federal government. Congress was in the process of passing major legislation to provide aid for higher education, including the Higher Education Act of 1965. The issue was whether the legislation would emphasize aid to institutions or directly to students. ACE took the lead in lobbying for aid to institutions of higher education. However, the 1972 amendments clearly emphasized direct aid. ACE's reaction to this defeat was to strengthen its governmental relations division and establish a policy analysis service. Also, in 1972 the ACE board was restructured to include six elected association representatives. In 1978 representation on the ACE board increased to thirteen associations.

In the 1980s major objectives for ACE and the other associations were to increase federal funding for student assistance programs, reduce the imbalance between federal student loans and grants, and increase the federal government's commitment to academic research. Through the 1990s ACE continued to emphasize coordination among the Big Six associations, increased federal support for student financial aid, improved policy analysis and research capacity, and reduced negative consequences for colleges and universities from the proliferation of federal regulations. The first Republican Congress in many years encouraged ACE and the other associations to seek a more bipartisan relationship than they had under Democratic majorities. The Big Six faced challenges in the 1990s that included major attacks on higher education for the rising cost of tuition, misconduct charges in university research, high levels of student loan defaults, overemphasis on rewarding research over teaching, and not paying enough attention to undergraduate education. The associations confronted the issues of academic earmarking and the creation of State Postsecondary Review Entities (SPREs), which threatened to sharply increase federal and state accountability controls over institutions of higher education. The Council for Postsecondary Accreditation (COPA), the national umbrella organization on accrediting, disintegrated, and the Big Six associations became deeply involved in creating a new national organization on accrediting.

ACE and the other members of the Big Six remain a cohesive voice for higher education, and despite having been joined by a large number of other groups interested in lobbying Congress on issues related to higher education, ACE and the other presidential associations are still the major voices representing higher education to the federal government.


BLOLAND, HARLAND G. 1985. "Associations in Action: The Washington D.C. Higher Education Community." ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 2. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education.

BLOLAND, HARLAND G. 2001. Creating the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Phoenix, AZ: American Council on Education and Oryx Press.

COOK, CONSTANCE EWING. 1998. Lobbying for Higher Education: How Colleges and Universities Influence Federal Policy. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

HAWKINS, HUGH. 1992. Banding Together: The Rise of National Associations in American Higher Education. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.


AMERICAN COUNCIL ON EDUCATION. 2002. <www.acenet.edu>.


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Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineEducation Encyclopedia: AACSB International - Program to Septima Poinsette Clark (1898–1987)