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A Century of ACE Annual Meetings

Minutes from the first Annual Meeting of the Emergency Council on Education, held at the new Willard Hotel in Washington, DC on March 26-27, 1918

The first Annual Meeting of the Emergency Council on Education, later renamed the American Council on Education (ACE), took place March 26–27, 1918 at the new Willard Hotel in Washington, DC. This initial meeting had less than two dozen attendees and was focused solely on organizing the logistics of the new organization recently founded by 14 higher education associations. With the exception of 1942–45, when wartime travel restrictions forced ACE to conduct its Annual Meetings via correspondence, ACE has been convening college and university presidents and higher education leaders for its Annual Meeting every year for the past 100 years.

Over time, ACE’s Annual Meetings grew in size and began to become programmatic and responsive to the contemporary issues facing higher education and wider society. The meetings sought to address how higher education could change in order to be responsive to social needs and pressures yet still maintain the continuity, stability, and relative autonomy of the academic community.

By its 50th anniversary, ACE had grown to an organization of over 1,600 members with an Annual Meeting that spanned three days and eight programmatic concurrent sessions. With this growth, ACE’s Annual Meeting became a valuable networking opportunity for the meeting’s attendees.

Today, ACE has over 1,800 members and its most recent Annual Meeting—ACE2017—spanned three days, featured over 70 different programmatic and business sessions, and attracted over 2,200 attendees from the United States and abroad. The meeting now convenes representatives from all sectors to collectively face higher education’s challenges, with a focus on improving access and preparing every student to succeed.

Bill Clinton speaks at ACE2015

Bill Clinton speaks at the Annual Meeting in 1995

Throughout its 100 years, prominent guest speakers at ACE’s Annual Meetings have included President Bill Clinton, U.S. secretaries of education, congressional leaders, and thought leaders, including prominent media personalities. ACE continues to reshape and enhance its Annual Meeting and is planning for its centennial celebration in March 2018, for which it anticipates record attendance.