Head of Private College Group to Retire

David L. Warren has led the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities since 1993, lobbying aggressively for his members and their students.

November 16, 2018
David L. Warren

David L. Warren, who as head of the nation's association of private nonprofit colleges earned a reputation among admirers and critics alike as higher education's power lobbyist, will retire next summer after 25 years.

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities announced this morning that Warren would retire as its president. Warren came to NAICU in 1993 after a decade as president of Ohio Wesleyan University. His career, which also included senior administrative posts at Antioch College and Yale University, included a stint in city politics in New Haven, Conn.

Warren's chief accomplishments during his tenure at NAICU included:

  • Spearheading the Student Aid Alliance, which was born in the wake of the effort by congressional Republicans working to implement the Contract for America in 1994 to cut student financial aid, and has been activated whenever federal funds for students are threatened.
  • Co-chairing the National Campus Voter Registration Project, which has encouraged and driven student participation in the electoral process.
  • Creating UCAN, the University and College Accountability Network, which is designed to provide comparable information about institutions as an alternative to federal accountability systems that Warren considered too intrusive.

Warren's time at NAICU is notable as much for what did not happen as for what did.

Longtime observers of higher education will recall indelible images of Warren, back problems and all, folded into a chair at every meeting of then Education Secretary Margaret Spellings's Commission on the Future of Higher Education, for which Warren was a leading voice against what he considered federal overreach. College leaders, with support from Congress, blunted the impact of the Spellings Commission.

Warren's fierce advocacy for his group's members and their students sometimes put him at odds with Washington's other sectors of higher education. While federal support for higher education doesn't have to be a zero-sum game, since budgets for financial aid and other needs can go up, it frequently is, and the priorities of different types of institutions (public versus private, two-year versus four-year, higher priced versus lower, etc.) can vary.

Critics sometimes asserted that Warren's lobbying success for independent colleges -- which make up about a third of the nation's colleges even though they enroll about 15 percent of all students -- offered policy makers a skewed perspective of what higher education and college students wanted and needed.

A 2014 report from New America asserted that NAICU enjoyed an “outsized influence” over federal policy, generally, as well as within the “Big Six” associations of college presidents. The report focused on NAICU's opposition to a proposed federal student-level database that would provide more expansive data about how colleges are performing, which public colleges have generally supported.

Private colleges have been fortunate to have Warren in their corner all these years, Andrew Benton, president of Pepperdine University and chair of NAICU's board, said in a prepared statement.

“During the past 25 years, David has been able to organize and mobilize an extremely diverse membership, one that has grown in every year he has been president, representing schools of all sizes and missions from around the country," he said. "In a time of immense partisanship in Washington, D.C., NAICU, together with its members, has been able to realize significant federal policy results for private, nonprofit colleges and universities and, more importantly, the students they serve.”

Added Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, “David Warren is a remarkable leader. Throughout his career, David has stood for the very best that American higher education represents. He has been a champion for equity and access, and has promoted initiatives that ensure that higher education remains an engine of social mobility. All of us are in David’s debt.”


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