Influential Group Calls It Quits

Financial difficulties force the American Association for Higher Education -- a key voice on assessment and faculty issues -- to disband.
March 25, 2005

The American Association for Higher Education, which was founded in 1969, announced Thursday that it would shut down its operations. The group has been influential on a number of curricular and teaching issues, but has faced a declining membership and financial difficulties.

In the last 20 years, AAHE was an early advocate of considering the role of assessment in higher education, and it was sponsoring meetings, programs and papers on how to measure what students learn far earlier than many other groups. AAHE has also been involved in curricular reform, efforts to diversify college faculties, and campaigns to help professors balance their professional and family lives.

In an interview, Clara M. Lovett, president of the association, said that the AAHE has had difficulty balancing its books for several years and that the board decided, with her support, that it was better to shut down than to compromise the quality of programming. She declined to give specifics on the association's financials, although Guidestar's database on nonprofit finances indicates that AAHE's revenues in 2003 were $7.5 million and its expenses $4 million.

Lovett said that most AAHE funds come from membership and conference fees, and that both have been in decline. There are currently about 5,600 members -- mostly faculty members and academic administrators -- down from more than 9,000 in the late 1990's. She also said that foundation grants have been harder to come by in recent years.

AAHE held its annual meeting last week in Atlanta, with no public discussion of the group's imminent demise. Lovett said that more than 800 members attended. She said that part of the problem in attracting members and conference attendees has been the proliferation of academic groups in recent years.

During the next two months, Lovett said that the association would try to turn over some of its programs to other groups. The AAHE also has very active caucuses of women and minority scholars, and Lovett said that those groups may try to continue. In addition, the AAHE manages the editorial operations of Change Magazine, a bimonthly. The association is currently in discussions with Heldref Publications, which owns Change, about who will take over AAHE's role.

Lee S. Shulman, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said he was "shocked" by the fall of AAHE. Because his group has worked closely with AAHE, he said that it would try to see if it could help preserve some of the association's programs.

Shulman speculated that groups that deal with curricular and faculty issues may be better off if they have institutional members, rather than individual members.

The AAHE, Shulman said, played a valuable role in promoting discussion in recent years on "the centrality of teaching" and "the importance of accountability and outcomes."


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