AAC&U Centennial Timeline

We are pleased to feature this timeline of key events in the first century of AAC&U's history. 

1915: The Association of American Colleges (AAC) is established in Chicago with 160 founding members.

1920: The AAC headquarters are relocated to New York City.

1925: AAC joins with eight other national higher education associations to formulate a statement of principles known as the 1925 Conference Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

1929: A sudden collapse of prices on the New York Stock Exchange precipitates the Great Depression, which affects all industrialized Western economies and lasts until the advent of the Second World War.

1936: Through a series of joint conferences held over the next two years, AAC and the American Association of University Professors undertake a revision of the 1925 Conference Statement on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

1941: AAC and the American Association of University Professors finalize the joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, which is subsequently endorsed by a broad range of other associations and learned societies.

1943: AAC’s Commission on Liberal Education, formed the previous year, issues its report, The Post-War Responsibilities of Liberal Education, arguing that “education, to be liberal, must be cumulative and integrative.”

1944: Enactment of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, popularly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, provides returning veterans of the Second World War with a range of benefits, including funds for college education. 

1945: The American Conference of Academic Deans is founded as an independent organization for academic deans from institutions belonging to AAC, establishing a partnership between the two organizations that continues today.

1945: General Education in a Free Society, the highly influential report popularly known as the Harvard Red Book, recommends that undergraduate curricula should emphasize preparation for democratic citizenship. 

1947: In its report, Higher Education for Democracy, the President’s Commission on Higher Education (popularly known as the Truman Commission) recommends “the development of a curriculum attuned to the needs of a democracy” and “the integration of vocational and liberal education.” 

1948: AAC headquarters are relocated to Washington, DC. 

1959: AAC’s quarterly journal, The Bulletin (launched in 1915), is retitled Liberal Education

1964: Passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; unequal application of voter registration requirements; and racial segregation in schools, the workplace, and public accommodations.

1969: AAC’s statement on Racial Problems and Academic Programs asserts that “the nation owes a debt of gratitude to its minorities for giving a fresh and morally compelling impetus to the movement for restoring relevance to academic programs.”

1971: AAC launches the Program on the Status and Education of Women, the first program among Washington-based associations aimed at overcoming gender stereotypes and discrimination based on sex. 

1972: Passage of Title IX ensures that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” 

1976: AAC discontinues all formal federal lobbying activities and assists in the establishment of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities to represent the interests of private nonprofit higher education on policy issues before the federal government.

1976: With federal lobbying no longer a priority, AAC becomes a voice and force for far-reaching educational change, with a constant focus on providing a horizon-expanding liberal education to the nation’s increasingly diverse array of college learners. 

1981: AAC becomes a founding member of the National Humanities Alliance, an advocacy coalition dedicated to the advancement of humanities education, research, preservation, and public programs. AAC becomes a founding member of the National Humanities Alliance, an advocacy coalition dedicated to the advancement of humanities education, research, preservation, and public programs.

1982: With support from several major foundations, AAC begins a far-reaching Project on Redefining the Meaning  and Purpose of Baccalaureate Degrees across traditional and nontraditional programs of study. 

1983: The National Commission on Excellence in Education releases its report, A Nation at Risk, warning of problems in international competitiveness if the American educational system is not improved. 

1985: AAC publishes the report Integrity in  the College Curriculum, outlining and inspiring needed reforms across all parts of higher education. 

1990: Paula Brownlee, president of Hollins College, is appointed as president of AAC, becoming the first woman to head a major higher education association. 

1993: AAC launches American Commitments, a ten-year multiproject initiative designed to address fundamental questions about higher education in a diverse democracy and to provide resources for colleges and universities willing to engage those questions. 

1995: The name of the association is changed to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in order to better reflect the full diversity of member institutions. 

1997: At the University of California–San Diego, President Clinton launches One America in the 21st Century: The President’s Initiative on Race, a new effort to prepare the country to embrace diversity.  

1998: Through its Racial Legacies and Learning: An American Dialogue initiative, and in coordination with the President’s Initiative on Race, AAC&U organizes campus-community dialogues and seminars across the country to address the legacies and ongoing challenges of race. 

2000: AAC&U launches Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College, a multiyear initiative to articulate the aims of a twenty-first-century liberal education for a diverse democracy and the global economy. 

2003: In response to troubling signs of student disengagement, AAC&U enters into partnership with the Charles Engelhard Foundation, which launches the Bringing Theory to Practice project to promote the well-being of individual students and to advance education as a public good that sustains a civic society. 

2003: In Grutter v. Bollinger, the US Supreme Court upholds the use of affirmative action in university admissions, finding that the promotion of diversity constitutes a compelling interest. 

2005: AAC&U launches the LEAP initiative (Liberal Education and America’s Promise), inaugurating a decade of advocacy, campus action, and research demonstrating the value of liberal education for all students and for the economic and democratic health of the nation.

2007: In a major report, College Learning for the New Global Century, the LEAP National Leadership Council identifies the essential aims, learning outcomes, and guiding principles of excellence for a twenty-first-century college education. 

2008: AAC&U releases High-Impact Educational Practices, a research analysis defining a set of educational practices that have a demonstrably positive impact on student success and that produce disproportionate benefits for underserved students. 

2008: Barack Obama is elected the forty-fourth president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold that office. 

2009: AAC&U releases the VALUE rubrics, a set of 16 assessment rubrics developed as part of the LEAP VALUE (Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education) project. 

2010: Project Kaleidoscope (founded in 1989) becomes AAC&U’s center of STEM higher education reform through a merger between both organizations. 

2012: At a White House convening, AAC&U releases A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, a report commissioned by the US Department of Education that calls on the nation to reclaim higher education’s civic mission and calls on educators to make civic learning pervasive for all students. 

2015: At the Centennial Annual Meeting, “Liberal Education, Global Flourishing, and the Equity Imperative,” held in Washington, DC, AAC&U begins its second century of leadership for liberal education by launching a yearlong program of events:

  • Leadership teams comprised of presidents, senior academic leaders, and key partners such as trustees, employers, and policy leaders participate in a daylong Centennial Symposium designed to probe the kind of learning that best prepares students for an era of global interdependence.
  • America’s Unmet Promise, a searing portrait of the deep inequities within higher education, and pledges to continue to work to reverse the inequities and make excellence inclusive rather than exclusive. &u>
  • AAC&U announces the LEAP Challenge, a second phase of the signature Liberal Education and America’s Promise initiative designed to make Signature Work a goal for all students and the expected standard for quality learning and inclusive excellence in college. 
  • AAC&U coordinates and sponsors Days of Reflection on Improving the Quality of College Learning, a series of dialogues about the equity imperative and increasing access to high-quality learning to be held on member campuses around the country. 
  • AAC&U brings together academic leaders, policy leaders, employers, and other stakeholders for a series of Regional Forums—in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York—designed to probe the inequities within higher education and to create productive partnerships and regional or state-level support for the expansion of high-quality liberal learning to all college students.

 2016: A year of coordinated events marking one hundred years of leadership for liberal education and looking forward to a second century of work advancing liberal learning and inclusive excellence culminates in the 2016 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.