Who Speaks for Higher Education?

December 31, 1992

The American Council on Education (ACE) is located in the nation's capitol on the top floor of One Dupont Circle, which is better known as the National Center for Higher Education. The center, created through a generous gift from the Kellogg Foundation some twenty-five years ago, was intended to help the nation's numerous higher education associations speak in one voice. The result of this coming together has been primarily a harmonious chorus, but there are times when discordant notes may be heard, as each association tries to build consensus around its own point of view. It is ACE's responsibility to harmonize the different voices in the national center.

As ACE enters its seventy-fifth year, it remains committed to its original mission. ACE was founded in 1918 to coordinate the response of colleges and universities to the United States' entry into the First World War. Three- quarters of a century later, our fundamental purpose remains the same: to enhance the linkage between higher education and the national interest.

The Economy, the Government, and the Higher Education Act

The recession that began in 1990 has taken a heavy toll on all sectors of academy. By the end of 1991, at least two-thirds of the states were experiencing fiscal difficulties. Facing competing demands for public resources, most state governments were either freezing public college and university budgets, or inflicting deep cuts in state support for both public and private institutions. On many campuses these cuts resulted in program and course reductions, layoffs of part-time faculty and staff, and deferred physical plant maintenance. A Fall 1991 ACE survey showed that total enrollment in a number of states was down. Dwindling enrollments resulted in less tuition revenue for institutions, making state budget cuts even more painful. These troubles coincided with congressional consideration of legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), which provides the legal underpinnings for student financial aid and for most other federal aid programs for colleges and universities (with the exception of scientific research). ACE led the higher education community to an unprecedented level of cooperation as it prepared its recommendations for congressional consideration and responded to proposals by other parties.

In April 1992 ACE submitted to the House Postsecondary Education Committee a one hundred seventy-four page document proposing major changes in HEA's student aid programs, as well as recommending modifications to most other titles in the Act. The document represented eighteen months of cooperative effort among six ACE task forces, which included members of the Washington Higher Education Secretariat a group of thirty-seven associations representing various aspects of higher education. These include the presidentially based associations; associations representing professions and schools and associations such as the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE), which represents individual faculty members and administrators.

Even with significant expansion of student aid and other important programs, however, successful reauthorization of the Higher Education Act does not in itself guarantee the availability of funding to carry out its mandates. Neither the legislative nor executive branches has mustered the courage to reduce military spending in any meaningful way, restrict the growth of entitlements, or raise new revenues.

ACE'S Commitment to Equity

Higher education institutions continue to face long-term challenges created by demographic shifts and requirements for social justice. Foremost among these challenges are improving minority participation and success, ending inequitable treatment of women, and adapting to the increased presence of nontraditional students.

Following decades of success in increasing the numbers of minority students on campus, ACE's Office of Minorities in Higher Education (OMHE) shifted its focus to emphasize greater academic achievements by students of color. This adjustment was made following the release of findings that only twenty-seven percent of minority students who enroll in colleges earn a bachelor's degrees.

Keeping minority students on campus and helping them thrive were key topics during the third "Educating One-Third of a Nation" conference held in Atlanta in 1991. The conference showcased innovative programs that enable colleges and universities to network and exchange ideas on campus diversity. The fourth "One-Third" conference will be held in Texas next year.

OMHE continues to develop a computerized data bank on minorities in higher education, has responded to recent developments regarding minority-targeted scholarships, and established a series of forums for minority administrators. The forums are designed to build a network of minorities in American higher education and to enhance their opportunities for reaching top administrative positions.

Decades before "diversity" became a central issue in American higher education, ACE was working to provide minority youth with greater access to higher education. The American Youth Commission, founded in 1935 to address ACE's concern with youth unemployment during the Depression, issued a series of reports on black youth that foreshadowed national interest in minority student issues. The reports included "Children of Bondage" by Charles Dollard and "Growing up in the Black Belt," which added to the changing national climate that led to the Supreme Court's 1954 decision to outlaw racial segregation in public schools.

Since 1920 ACE has addressed the concerns of women with regard to the academy. The training of women for public service was a major focus of activity in the council's early years. Twenty years ago ACE's annual meeting theme was "Women in Higher Education." The meeting corresponded with the passage of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the extension to women of other civil rights legislation. ACE's Office of Women in Higher education (OWHE) and the Commission on Women in Higher Education were established in 1973. The creation of the National Identification Program for the Advancement of Women in Higher Education (ACE/NIP), the publication of several important books on women, and the first-ever Women Presidents' Summit are hallmarks of ACE's most recent efforts on behalf of women. OWHE is currently working on a project on pay equity for women in higher education and is preparing for a second Women Presidents' Summit to be held in Washington next year. Recognizing the fact that more than half of all college students are women, OWHE is continuing to focus on "educating the majority," as well as on increasing the number of women in leadership positions in higher education. This effort is accomplished primarily through the National Identification Program, which operates at the state level.

Recent publications of the Fact Book on Women in Higher Education the first presentation of data on women faculty, students, administrators, staff and trustees in one volume represented a milestone in the work of OWHE. The book has been hailed by readers as an essential resource for anyone interested in gender equity in academe. ACE also recently updated its "Sexual Harassment on Campus: A Policy and Program of Deterrence," which reviews the legal background of sexual harassment policies, alerts college presidents to the implications of the latest Supreme Court cases in this area, and includes guidelines for addressing sexual harassment on campus.

Helping Leaders Reach Their Full Potential

Since its inception in 1965 the ACD Fellows Program has worked to identify and prepare future higher education leaders. It continues to gain recognition and enhance its reputation as the premier leadership development program for faculty members and administrators who have demonstrated potential for making significant contributions to higher education administration.

The ACE Fellows Program is an investment in the future of the individual, the university that supports the pro- gram, and higher education generally. Fellows are selected yearly through a national competition. Selected fellows have the opportunity to:

  • gain a campus-wide perspective by serving as interns to college or university presidents and/or vice presidents;
  • learn new administrative skills through seminars and practical experience;
  • understand higher education in national and regional contexts by meeting with national leaders and visiting a variety of campuses; and
  • bring new perspectives and information back to their sponsoring institutions following the fellowship year.

Of the more than one thousand twenty-three former fellows, one hundred forty-seven have served as college or university CEOs; more than five hundred fifty others have served as vice presidents, vice chancellors, or deans. It is also worth noting that each year, an increasing number of female and minority fellows are selected.

Other Activities

The purpose of ACE's Division of Policy Analysis and Research (DPAR) is to develop and monitor information needed for sound educational policy- making. Since its inception, the division's "Campus Trends" survey has monitored important changes on the nation's campuses. The survey has been conducted for nine consecutive years.

Higher Education Today: Facts in Brief is a biennial DPAR publication that includes charts and narrative statistical profiles depicting the dynamic nature of American colleges and universities. The report is particularly helpful to the media and lay audiences, because it enhances their understanding of postsecondary education.

In continuing efforts to supply educators, policy-makers, and others with cutting-edge data and analysis, DPAR recently launched the ACE Research Briefs, a series of papers on issues and trends affecting higher education. The series focuses on eight timely topics each year, including faculty supply and demand, trends in master's degrees, comparisons of international higher education systems, college graduates in the labor market, and higher education and the economy.

ACE's international endeavors focus on helping member institutions internationalize their curricula, expand opportunities for study abroad, and increase and strengthen ties to institutions around the globe. ACE was a pioneer in international education, beginning with student exchange programs after World War I. The Council helped establish the concept of junior year abroad and helped create UNESCO and the Fulbright-Hays exchange programs.

Another important ACE advocacy program is the Center for Adult Learning and Educational Credentials. For 50 years the Center has helped adults obtain credit and credentials by evaluating learning that takes place outside of the formal classroom. Each year, the Center evaluates hundreds of courses offered by the military, businesses, unions, and other organizations, and makes appropriate college credit recommendations. The Center also administers the General Educational Development (GED) Tests, a national high school equivalency examination, which tests more than 800,000 adults annually. Recently the External Diploma Program (EDP) joined the GED Tests as a second high school credentialing option offered by the center. EDP is popular among older students and women and is based on the mastery of specific skills in a one-on-one assessment situation.

Finally, the Center undertakes national projects related to quality assurance in numerous aspects of adult education.


It is evident from this brief overview of the work of ACE's work that the council's vision is global. The emphasis on public policy issues and on structural issues facing today's campus leadership, may obscure how ACE relates to music educators. Let me point out that your students benefit from the arduous work that has gone into reauthorization of the HEA. In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration launched an all-out attack on federal student aid programs. Through the joint effort of the Washington based associations, with ACE in the lead, the attack was halted at the congressional level; some shifts from grants to loans have occurred, but there was considerable damage control.

ACE/NIP program is open to women faculty and administrators at any of our member institutions. It has proven to be an excellent vehicle for the advancement of women in higher education. Likewise, the ACE Fellows program is open to faculty in all disciplines; both music scholars and administrators have served as ACE fellows.

As Joe Prince wrote in his book The Arts at State Colleges and Universities,

This work supports the belief that the arts are vital components of our nation's culture. Colleges and universities are also essential elements in the nation's total environment. The arts on campuses mirror the arts of the nation...Thousands of young artist and arts enthusiasts are being educated on these campuses. Thousands more experience the arts through outreach programs. This rich and enriching climate for the arts bodes well for the present and future. An aesthetically sensitive, literate, and intellectually expansive population will serve not only the arts, but all the endeavors of mankind. (Joe N. Prince, The Arts at State Colleges and Universities, Washington: American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 1990, p. 138.)

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