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National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities

Activities and Membership, History

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) is a Washington, D.C.-based umbrella association comprising more than 900 private nonprofit colleges, universities, and associations. The association's purpose is to further the cause of its membership by representing the accomplishments and interests of independent higher education. To accomplish its aims, the NAICU staff represents private higher education to government officials, follows campus trends, conducts research, publishes newsletters and research results, issues papers, and coordinates a variety of nonprofit association activities at the national and state levels.

Activities and Membership

The association's major policy thrusts relate to student aid, taxation, and government regulation. Among the organization's projects has been leadership in the organization of the Student Aid Alliance, a grassroots effort aimed at substantially increasing funding for student aid programs in the federal budget. NAICU has led the effort during congressional election years to encourage member institutions to conduct on-campus nonpartisan voter registration drives through its National Campus Voter Registration project. NAICU is a participating member of the Big Six, an informal group of chief executive officers of the major higher education associations in Washington, who meet regularly to discuss common interests and develop collaborative approaches to lobby the federal government. The organization is represented in the deliberations of the six major Washington higher education associations' federal relations officers meetings, and it participates in the Secretariat, a body of forty associations representing postsecondary institutions that meets monthly to discuss events, activities, and mutual interests.

The NAICU's diverse membership includes liberal arts colleges, research universities, church-related institutions, historically black colleges and universities, women's colleges, performing and visual arts institutions, community colleges, and professional schools such as medicine and engineering.

The NAICU's activities include leadership of a secretariat whose membership is composed of the chief executive officers of national, regional, and other special purpose associations of independent colleges and universities, such as Associated Colleges of the South, Accrediting Association of Bible Colleges, and Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design. In addition, NAICU collaborates with the Foundation for Independent Higher Education (FIHE) and the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) to further the aims of independent higher education.


The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities began as the Association of American Colleges (AAC) in 1916, an organization of denominational and independent colleges. AAC's founders were determined to counter charges that there was an oversupply of liberal arts colleges and to help withstand the threatening competition of state institutions.

AAC members had a long history of opposing government interference and, as late as 1963, were opposed to any federal aid to institutions of higher education. AAC suffered from a deep internal division. On the one hand AAC was the chief association advocate for the liberal arts, which meant that the organization included in its membership public institutions and large universities with liberal arts interests as well as small independent colleges, and the small independent colleges felt that they were not adequately represented. To remedy this the Federation of State Associations of Independent Colleges and Universities (FSAICU) was organized within AAC in the late 1960s as a coordinating agency for independent institutions. In a move to expand policy activity, FSAICU was reorganized in 1971 to become the National Council of Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU), complete with a board independent of AAC and a full-time director of public affairs. The liberal arts versus independent college perspectives continued to divide AAC, and in 1975 an AAC study recommended that a completely separate organization be created to represent the interests of independent colleges and universities. In 1976 NCICU was disbanded and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities was formed, leaving the AAC free to pursue its continuing interest in liberal education. Later the AAC evolved to become the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

Because of its diverse membership, the problem of balance was particularly acute for NAICU. Thus, in the beginning, some NAICU members thought that there was an overrepresentation of presidents of large universities, such as Johns Hopkins and Stanford, on the board, when the membership was composed primarily of institutions with less than 2,500 students. However, NAICU worked at providing fair and equitable representation on its boards and became the peak organization for the large and diverse population of private colleges and universities in the United States, combining an active involvement in lobbying with the provision of a wide range of services to its membership, to government, and to the public.


BLOLAND, HARLAND G. 1985. Associations in Action: The Washington, D.C. Higher Education Community. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education.

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




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