AAC&U’s 2022 annual meeting, with the theme “Educating for Democracy,” served as the official launch of the association’s name change to the American Association of Colleges and Universities. The new name formally recognizes that educators around the world are increasingly involved in AAC&U and positions the association for continued growth in global membership. Today, AAC&U members include higher education institutions not only in every US state and territory but also in twenty-four other countries: the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Greece, Haiti, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Switzerland, Tanzania, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.
Since its inception in 1915 as the Association of American Colleges, AAC&U has been dedicated to championing liberal education as essential to fulfilling higher education’s democratic purpose. In 1976, AAC articulated a monumental shift away from the prevailing notion of liberal education as the exclusive purview of liberal arts colleges and colleges of arts and sciences within public universities to a broader focus on liberal education spanning both public and private sectors and encompassing institutions of all types and sizes. AAC&U’s commitment to expansive inclusivity led the association, in 1995, to take the critical step of changing its name to the Association of American Colleges and Universities to reflect its increasingly diverse institutional membership.
The transition from AAC to AAC&U coincided with a growing emphasis on issues of equity and quality in higher education. In support of these values, the association prioritized mobilizing collaborative leadership for educational and institutional effectiveness; building faculty leadership in the context of institutional renewal; strengthening curricula to serve student and societal needs; establishing diversity as an educational and civic priority; and fostering global engagement in a diverse but connected world.
Over the next decade following the 1995 name change, AAC&U foregrounded its commitment to equity and inclusion, culminating in the embrace of inclusive excellence as central to liberal education in the association’s 2012 mission statement. The goal signaled a commitment to the ideal that access to educational excellence for all students—not just the privileged—is essential not only for a thriving economy but, more important, for democracy. The goal also conveyed the board members and staff’s conviction that diversity and inclusion are prerequisites for excellence in higher education.
Today, AAC&U represents more than one thousand accredited colleges and universities, comprising large and small, public and private, two-year and four-year, domestic and international, secular and faith-based institutions; tribal colleges, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities; and entire state systems. Fulfilling our mission of advancing liberal education, equity, and excellence as the foundations for undergraduate education in service to democracy calls for us to dismantle barriers to high-quality liberal education; ensure that liberal education happens at institutions of all types; inspire institutional change, build capacity to enact institutional change, and catalyze transformation through collaboration; support the growth, development, and well-being of the whole person; generate evidence-based research surrounding the value of higher education; develop creative and innovative programs and partnerships to serve our members; and connect campuses and communities to solve global problems.
AAC&U’s commitment to inclusion as a core value guiding our work has also led us to adopt a new logo, which elevates the ampersand in our name. The highlighted ampersand signals our understanding that revolutionizing and revitalizing higher education in a post-pandemic world will necessitate new levels of collaboration to achieve our shared objectives of positioning students for success in work, citizenship, and life. I invite you to further explore the new brand identity by visiting AAC&U’s redesigned website—including a refreshed online version of this magazine that features exclusive web content.