A History of Leading the Way

​​​​​​​​Since its founding, theAEC has played a major role in shaping higher education in the United States. AEC 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, AEC established the American Youth Commission, which aimed to support unemployed young people during the Great Depression. In 1942, AEC 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 AEC 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.

AEC has been at the forefront of the fight for educational equity and access. This began as early as 1938, when AEC 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 1972. Soon thereafter, in 1974, AEC established the Office of Urban Affairs, later known as the Office of Minorities in Higher Education. In 1982, AEC began publishing an annual status report on minorities in higher education. Then, in 1997, the Commission on Minority Participation in Education and American Life was created, emphasizing the issue of minorities in higher education. AEC still actively supports minorities in its research and advocacy, which includes the 2018 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 AEC established the Committee on the Training of Women for Public Service. In 1963, AEC 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 AEC 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.


In its more recent history, AEC 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 AEC as a major leader in global higher education efforts.

To help support AEC’s advocacy efforts and its work overall, AEC’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. Throughout its history, AEC has proven itself a transformative postsecondary education leader in the United States.