Our History

A History of Leading the Way

​​​​​​​​Since its founding, the American Council on Education (ACE) has played a major role in shaping higher education in the United States. ACE spearheaded programs, advocated for legislation and undertook initiatives that have formed the postsecondary landscape in the United States over the past century. The Council has been an unflagging advocate for the importance of a diverse campus and expanding the higher education leadership pipeline to underrepresented groups, and of easing the path to a degree for post-traditional students, minorities, women, and members of the military and veterans.

In 1935, ACE established the American Youth Commission, which aimed to support unemployed young people during the Great Depression. In 1942, ACE helped to develop the GED® program, which has opened doors to better jobs and college programs for more than 20 million people. The GED Testing Service, a joint venture of ACE and Pearson formed in 2011, launched a new GED program in 2014 that included a new test aligned with state and national college and career readiness standards.

ACE has been at the forefront of the fight for educational equity and access. This began as early as 1938, when ACE began studying the effects of racism on African American children, which was followed by multiple reports on equal opportunity in education. In response to issues raised during the integration of the University of Mississippi, the Council formed the Committee on Equality of Educational Opportunity in 1962. Soon thereafter, in 1964, ACE established the Office of Urban Affairs, later known as the Office of Minorities in Higher Education. In 1982, ACE began publishing an annual status report on minorities in higher education. Then, in 1987, the Commission on Minority Participation in Education and American Life was created, emphasizing the issue of minorities in higher education. ACE still actively supports minorities in its research and advocacy, which includes the 2015 report Race, Class, and College Access: Achieving Diversity in a Shifting Legal Landscape and the 2019 publication Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: A Status Report​.

Support for women has also been an important issue for the Council since 1920, when ACE established the Committee on the Training of Women for Public Service. In 1953, ACE worked with the National Association for Women in Education to create the Commission on the Education of Women, examining the role and levels of participation of women in higher education. Twenty years later, in 1973, the Council established the Office of Women in Higher Education. Today, the ACE Women’s Network supports and connects women in higher education throughout the United States. Initiatives such as the Moving the Needle campaign bring together individuals supporting women in higher education.

ACE’s support of the military has been present since the day it was founded during World War I. ACE worked toward the passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (known as the GI Bill) in 1944, and later the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008. ACE offers detailed resources for institutions to help them support their military-connected students, as well as resources for service members and veterans. In addition, ACE founded the Program on Non-collegiate Sponsored Instruction in 1940 to assist campuses in granting credit for what service members and veterans had learned while in the service. ACE’s Military Evaluations Program continues to this day and ACE’s credit recommendations appear in the Military Guide and on military transcripts. The Military Guide includes all evaluated courses and occupations from 1954 to the present. ACE’s College Credit Recommendation Service (CREDIT®​) was created in 1974 to include civilian work-related education and now services a wide array of post-traditional learners. CREDIT reviews training offered by corporations, government agencies, and unions, as well as other formal training taken outside a traditional degree-granting program, and makes recommendations for college credit.

In its more recent history, ACE has been a strong supporter of campus internationalization efforts and has been at the forefront of global engagement efforts. Programs like the Internationalization Laboratory and partnerships with groups such as Navitas and Santander Universidades in Mexico have positioned ACE as a major leader in global higher education efforts.

To help support ACE’s advocacy efforts and its work overall, ACE's research division offers thought leadership at the intersection of public policy and institutional strategy through reports, papers, issue briefs, infographics, and convenings. These offerings provide acute insight and analysis into many critical topics regarding higher education today. The American College President Study (ACPS), now in its eighth iteration, is one of the many studies conducted by ACE's research division. ACPS offers in-depth data and analysis regarding the college presidency and higher education leadership pipeline.

Throughout its history, ACE has proven itself a transformative postsecondary education leader in the United States.

Our First Members

On January 30, 1918, the Emergency Council on Education reported on the group’s first formal structure. This report included the names of the original 11 national societies that made up the membership of the Council at that time. By March 26 of that same year, the Council had been formally organized and the founding member associations grew to 14.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

American Association of University Professors

Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations

Association of American Colleges

Association of American Medical Colleges

Association of American Universities

Association of Urban Universities

Catholic Education Association

National Association of State Universities

National Council of Normal School Presidents and Principals

National Education Association

N.E.A. Department of Superintendence

N.E.A. National Council of Education

Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education

​The Council evolved rapidly, and by July had changed its name to the American Council on Education. Membership also changed at a quick pace. In 1920, ACE released its first record of institutional members; those 122 original member institutions helped ACE grow into the effective institution it is today. Today, 92 of them are still in the ranks of our over 1,700 members.

The American Council on Education would like to recognize and thank those original members for supporting the Council’s work from the very start.

The American Council on Education’s 122 original member institutions (119kb PDF)
ACE Presidents Reflect

​The American Council on Education grew under the watchful eyes of its presidents. Learn about ACE's history through their stories.

The video embedded below is one of four videos in a playlist. Please use the list icon at the top right corner of the player to navigate through all of the videos.

The National Center for Higher Education​

In its early years, the American Council of Education (ACE) was headquartered adjacent to the White House at 744 Jackson Place NW. ACE moved to Massachusetts Avenue in 1951 and served as a landlord to nine other higher education associations within its building. Finding value in being in close proximity to their colleagues, additional higher education organizations were drawn to the Dupont Circle neighborhood and by 1967 the offices of 50 higher education associations were located in a two-block radius of ACE.

By the mid-1960s, ACE and its tenants had again outgrown their offices on Massachusetts Avenue and ACE proposed the creation of a National Center for Higher Education (NCHE) as a solution to their space needs. This also brought about the opportunity to consolidate the neighboring higher education associations and resources in one central location, allowing not only greater collaboration and coordination of activities but also shared facilities and services and significant savings for all of the associations involved. In addition to these practical factors, the construction of a National Center for Higher Education was also envisioned as an architectural contribution to the nation’s capital which would symbolize the growing unity of American higher education.

The expense for the project would be significant, however, so ACE sought external funding. In response to ACE’s proposal for funding the NCHE concept, in December 1967 the W.K. Kellogg Foundation appropriated $2.5 million to assist ACE in planning and constructing a building in Dupont Circle to house the National Center for Higher Education. Initially ACE considered constructing a new building on the site of its property at Eleven Dupont Circle, but the uncertain cost requirements of such an option led ACE to instead purchase a structure already in the process of being built at One Dupont Circle in March 1969. ACE was expected to fund 55 percent ($3 million) of the total projected cost, which was estimated at $5.5 million. Construction of the building was completed in 1970. In the end, the project cost approximately $9 million, of which ACE financed $6.6 million, partly through the proceeds from the sale of the building at 1785 Massachusetts Avenue to the Brookings Institution.

By the beginning of 1970, the NCHE buildings—One and Eleven Dupont Circle—were fully leased to a total of 36 education association tenants and four commercial tenants. In the pre-Internet world, the success that American higher education associations accomplished in helping to pass major education bills in Congress would have been far more difficult without the opportunity for daily contact and discussion of issues of mutual concern that NCHE provided.

Nearly 50 years later the NCHE continues to serve as a symbol of unity for American higher education, with 16 higher education associations calling One Dupont Circle their home.


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