American council on education

Alternative names
Active 1941
Active 1948

History notes:

Founded in 1918, the American Council on Education is a coordinating body for American institutions of higher education.

From the guide to the American Council on Education Latin American Slide Collection N/A., 1945, (Benson Latin American Collection, The University of Texas at Austin)

Founded in 1918, the American Council on Education (ACE) is the nation's unifying voice for higher education. ACE serves as a consensus leader on key higher education issues and seeks to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives.

From the description of American Council on Education meeting minutes, 1923-1950. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 754864034

1980 Wingspread Conference on Women in Higher Education: Past, Present, and Future sponsored by the American Council on Education and the Johnson Foundation and held in Racine, Wis. Wingspread Conference on Graduate Training in Women's History, October 21-23, 1988.

From the description of Records, 1958-1988 (inclusive). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 232007123

American nonprofit organization for the promotion of education.

From the description of American Council on Education records, 1918-2007. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 754872541

The American Council on Education was established in 1918 to coordinate the services of educational institutions and organizations to the federal government during World War I. After the war it intensified its study of American education, developed a series of national examinations, and expanded its services to educational institutions.

The American Council on Education Conference on Women in the Defense Decade was convened to stimulate discussion of "what women's attitudes, philosophy and activities should be" during 1951-60. With the onset of the Cold War and the Korean conflict, particular emphasis was placed on the ways in which women could contribute to the defense and development of the United States.

From the description of Records, 1951. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 232007065

Biographical/Historical Sketch

Founded in 1918, the American Council on Education (ACE) is the nation's unifying voice for higher education. ACE serves as a consensus leader on key higher education issues and seeks to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives.

From the guide to the American Council on Education minutes, 1923-1950, (Department of Special Collections and University Archives)

Introduction the American Council on Education Guide

During a blizzard in Chicago in January 1918, four educators representing professional associations deliberated on how to best meet the wartime needs of American higher education. Before World War I was over, these four educators were joined by others and the Emergency Council on Education was created. This fledgling organization, with an annual budget of two thousand dollars, soon shed its wartime nature and changed its name to the American Council on Education. From 1918, ACE has steadily increased in size and stature in American higher education.

How ACE became one of the pre-eminent institutions in higher education during its history is reflected in its archives. This aggregate of the permanent, noncurrent records documents the various goals, programs and accomplishments of the council between 1918 and 1977. Just as the Council had dropped its transitory name in 1918, to one more appropriate for a permanent organization, an archives of an organization does not include all the records created or received by it during its existence. Most records of an organization are of a temporary nature and, once their current use is over, can be destroyed because the purpose for their existence is satisfied. During the arrangement and description project just concluded, records of a non-current nature were appraised as to their value and either blessed as archives or destroyed. Over half of the records accumulated by the Council were either duplicates, publications, or simply not judged to be of permanent value.

This descriptive inventory of the ACE Archives provides the membership of the Council, the staff of the Council, and interested researchers, a means to use the almost three hundred linear feet of permanent records constituting the archives. Because of the Council's central role in directing American higher education over the last sixty years, a brief historical sketch of significant events documented in the archives follows. This is by no means intensive or extensive and is meant only to highlight some of the educational issues ACE and its members have faced in the twentieth century.

World War I not only thrust the United States into a leadership position in world affairs but also brought out the lack of vocational education training and universal military training in the United States. These issues, as well as the exchange of students between American and foreign educational institutions in Europe, occupied the Council. Because the institution was the central coordinating organization of other educational associations and individual members, building a membership and remaining financially sound were vital activities and occupied a great amount of energy of Donald J. Cowling and Samuel P. Capen, the first two directors of the Council. As chief executives of the Council, these two individuals felt it their responsibility for reporting to the membership proposed higher education legislation. Capen, as the second director, established a quarterly publication, the Educational Record in 1920, in order to report to the Council membership pertinent issues and activities. This publication has served a vital need in higher education, and for over fifty years has summarized the activities of the committees and commissions of ACE. From its early history to the present, committees and commissions have been central to the accomplishments of the Council. Because the commissions and committees created and maintained their records separate from the records of the Office of the Director, they are retained in that manner in the ACE Archives. The records of commissions and committees created during the tenure of Cowling were not broken in 1919 when Capen became director and can be located in the office records of the latter.

The quantity of records created during the tenures of Cowling and Capen is quite small, however that is not unusual when considerations are made for a Council staff of one or two employees. In addition, much of the correspondence of committee members would be maintained among the papers of these university administrators and professors.

If Cowling and Capen were the copilots in getting the Council off the ground, the third director of the organization was responsible for guiding it through its first decade of growth. Charles Riborg Mann directed the Council between 1922 and 1934. Man reflected his times when he opposed federal funding for higher education. Just as strongly, he promoted the use of standardized testing by use of a standardized psychological test. In 1927 this test was administered to 64,000 freshmen in 188 colleges and universities. Over the next fifty years, the diagnostic value of this examination as an addition to secondary school grades became standard in American education. During his tenure the council began publishing what today is the Handbook of American Colleges and Universities. Not all efforts of the council ended in success. The chair of the committee on Federal Relations reported in 1925 that seven years of efforts to promote the creation of a Federal Department of Education was unsuccessful. The committee reported "the termination of the 68th Congress and than God." In April 1929, President Herbert Hoover established the National Advisory committee on Education and named Mann as chairman. Four other members of the Executive Committee of the council were appointed to this presidential committee. Much of the committee's activities can be followed in the archives of the Council.

When Director Man resigned in 1934, the former U.S. Commissioner of Education, George F. Zook, was appointed executive. With membership of the Council declining because of the depression, Zook and the Executive Committee reduced Council dues from $100 to $50. Also the Constitution was amended to rename the chief executive the president rather than the director.

In 1936, the Council announced the formation of the American Youth Commission and elected former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker as chairman. During most of the depression, about four out of ten unemployed workers were American youth. The records of the Commission document noteworthy achievements of the commission in relating to the harsh realities faced by American youth. Such Council publications as Growing Up in the Black Belt and Youth and the Future had a significant impact on how Americans viewed their youth.

Anticipating wartime needs, the Council began publication of Higher Education and National Defense in 1940. Later, this publication was renamed Higher Education and National Affairs and is prominent today in the literature of higher education. During World War II the Council was frustrated because no overall higher education plan met the approval of the War Department. In various ways the Council and its new Committee of Relationship of Higher Education to the Federal Government cooperated with government agencies. The government request to conserve paper reduced the size of the Educational Record and the amount of records created by the Council. Remembering that many colleges and universities granted blanket credit for military experience in World War I, the council published 50,000 copies of a pamphlet, Sound Educational Credit for Military Experience. At the conclusion of the war, the Council established the Veterans Testing Service, which was later renamed the General Educational Development Testing Service. During its existence the Service tested almost three million adults.

In 1945 and 1946, Dr. Zook's efforts to promote international education and cultural exchange were successful as he and other educators attended the San Francisco Conference. This influence can be seen in the Charter of the United Nations. Zook was also named program chairman of the United States National Commission for UNESCO and continued to campaign for cultural exchange programs. Also in 1946, Zook was named by President Truman as chairman of the President's Commission on Higher Education. Various committees of the Council examined the need for higher education assistance to those returning from the armed services. A special committee was established to study the problems of the more than 123,000 disabled American veterans enrolled on college campuses. A special Council sampling survey of housing for veterans attending classes was performed.

Upon Zook's retirement in 1950, the American Council on Education moved to its new headquarters and received its new president, Arthur S. Adams. Because of the Korean Conflict, the manpower question occupied the attention of the Council. A special conference on the role of women in the mobilization of human resources was sponsored in New York City. The Executive Committee again voiced objection to a proposed universal military training program then before Congress.

Major concerns of higher education during the McCarthy Era were the questions of academic freedom and national security. In 1953, the Educational Record published two articles describing infringements on academic freedom at Rutgers and Harvard. The council held two special conferences on the questions of academic freedom and national security. A new Commission on the Education of Women was launched by the Council in 1953.

As the Council staff increased in the 1950s, the need for a Council library became evident. In 1956 a small staff library was opened with a contribution of $450.

Spurred by the Russian launching of Sputnik, the Council published A Proposed Program of Federal Action to Strengthen Higher Education in the Service of the Nation. The Council stressed that the nation should improve and strengthen our educational system rather than imitate the Russian model. The Council's Problems and Policies Committee followed by distributing 130,000 copies of its study, Public Understanding and Support of Higher Education. By the 1960s, the professional staff of the Council had expanded and offered the membership more institutional research capability and expertise.

In 1961 the new president, Logan Wilson, made substantive changes in the organizational structure of the Council. Wilson' goal was to have a small staff of professionals assigned to major areas of council interest. These council offices or divisions were assisted by advisory committees or commissions representing the wide spectrum of Council membership. Within this organizational framework a large number of leaders of American higher education were involved in Council activities. In addition, a publications department and a department of research and analysis were established in the 1960s as service oriented components of the Council. Although new divisions or operations were created and others expanded or reduced in size, the basic organizational structure introduced by Wilson still stands. From the 1960s, the Council, and higher education in general, has paid greater attention to the federal government's impact on higher education. Today, almost all operating units of the Council are aware of the influence of government in the higher education enterprise.

Logan Wilson's talents stretched far beyond organizational management. He brought about creation of a Committee of Educational Opportunity which addressed the need for greater opportunities for blacks in higher education. Wilson and other members of the board also directed the Council to look at the urban scene in the 1960s. In that same area, ACE influenced the Higher Education Act of 1965 by urging direct financial assistance for needy and able students. These came to be known as "opportunity grants." In 1969 the ACE annual meeting theme, "The Campus and Racial Tension," was proposed by the staff director of the Office of Research. During this period, the commission on Acadmic Affairs published ACE Special Reports relating to the needs of black America.

Despite the ferment in the 1960s on American campuses, overseas assistance to newly established African educational institutions was carried out through the Council's Africa Liaison Committee, established in 1959. Most of the committee's early efforts were directed toward sub-Sahara Africa. In 1965 the committee was renamed the Overseas Liaison Committee and expanded its activities into the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean areas. The activities and accomplishments in assisting educational institutions in these areas are fully documented in the records of the committee.

After a decade of service as president of the Council, Logan Wilson was succeeded in 1972 by Roger W. Heyns. The new president focused on federal legislation affecting higher education and in achieving a better representation of institutional interests on the Board of the Council. Following intensive study, the Board was expanded to include six new members. Also, to cope with the growing demands of relating higher education and the federal government, Stephen K. Bailey was appointed vice president in charge of all Council activities in governmental relations. The Council interaction with government was evidenced by the presentation of 27 oral or written statements to congressional committees or federal agencies during 1973. Thus, under the leadership of Heyns and Bailey, ACE became more the leader and voice for higher education when new legislation was being considered. The Council staff became more conversant with legislative staffs and provided expertise when needed. When Heyns resigned on May 31, 1977, Bailey became acting president for three months until a successor, J. W. Peltason, assumed the chief executive's position.

It appears that by both the volume and complexity of Council records pertaining to governmental relations, the ACE has assumed the vital role of articulating and promoting the interests of higher education in the legislative arena.

This historical sketch, although providing some idea of the documentation available in the archives, is no substitute for a careful study of the descriptive guide of the ACE Archives, 1918-1977, provided in the rest of this document.

George C. Chalou, Archival Consultant, American Council on Education, 1982.

From the guide to the American Council on Education Records, 1918-2011, (Hoover Institution Archives)


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Constellation Information

Ark ID:


  • Education
  • Educational assistance, American--Africa
  • Universities and colleges
  • Education, Higher--United States
  • Women--Education (Higher)
  • Education--United States
  • International education
  • Universities and colleges--United States
  • Education--Societies, etc
  • Education, higher
  • Women--Psychology
  • Housewives
  • Women--Social conditions
  • Women--Education
  • Educational assistance, American
  • Voluntarism


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not available for this record


  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Africa (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Africa. (as recorded)
  • Latin America (as recorded)