ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

For students and their families, choosing a college or university to attend is a pivotal decision.

In a Roper survey commissioned by ACTA, seven out of ten Americans agreed that colleges and universities should require all students to take basic classes in core subjects such as writing, math, science, economics, U.S. history, and foreign language. And with the average person changing jobs as many as 11 times during his or her first decades of employment, it is now more important than ever that prospective students know which colleges offer a well-balanced liberal arts education. In the same poll, the public said institutions of higher learning are doing only a fair or poor job of preparing students for the job market.


What Will They Learn? — A guide to what college rankings don’t tell you

The search for the right college can be overwhelming. There is one thing other rankings won't tell you: which universities are making sure their students learn what they need to know. This free resource,, does tell you, focusing on seven key areas of knowledge. It's designed to help you decide whether the colleges you're considering prepare their graduates to succeed after graduation.

Strengthening Core Requirements

ACTA’s efforts to strengthen core curricula around the nation do not end with providing information to students, parents, higher education leadership, and policymakers. We also provide technical advice and support to institutions seeking to strengthen their core requirements. Through campus presentations and letters to governing boards, ACTA helps institutions understand how to make the changes that build a vibrant general education program.

Information on Campus Life

College students need a campus where the mind and character can grow. ACTA provides information and guidance for parents and students on this crucial aspect of college life. Through our brochure Substance Abuse on Campus, ACTA sounds the alarm about a threat to student safety and well-being that injures and kills thousands of college students each year. ACTA has also taken up the issue of residential life programs that invade the privacy of students on sensitive social and personal matters. In Trouble in the Dorms, ACTA describes a particularly intrusive program at the University of Delaware and others like it, informing college bound students and parents about what to ask as they consider their options for college.

Our Initiatives


College in Crisis: What’s Wrong with Higher Education?

October 2013by ACTA |  

This video synopsis of the What Will They Learn? study of core curricula at more than 1,000 colleges and universities across the country reveals information...

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What Will They Learn? 2014-15

October 2014by ACTA |  

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni today released the sixth edition of the What Will They Learn? ratings. At a time when 87% of employers believe...

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Substance Abuse on Campus

February 2012by ACTA's Institute for Effective Governance |  

Get the facts about what's going on at campuses across the country and how universities' failure to emphasize their academic mission has created a vacuum...

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Federal Campus Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Free Speech Concerns

Huffington Post
July 17, 2013 |

The federal government is facing pressure from civil-liberties advocates to back down from a policy meant to curb sexual harassment at colleges and...

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Up, up and away

Richmond Times-Dispatch
June 20, 2013 |

College students and their parents know all too well the punishing financial terms higher education can inflict. The price of a college education has...

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Vague Sexual Harassment Guidelines Threaten Free Speech on Campus, Say National Nonprofits

June 17, 2013 |

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) are calling for college...

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Alumni know the value of academic excellence and academic freedom—and they care about their colleges and universities.

Alumni give several billion dollars each year to their alma maters—they are the largest private source of support for higher education. Immune from the pressures of academic politics, they are free to speak up for fundamental academic values. ACTA is working to provide alumni with opportunities to effect positive reforms.


Helping Donors Achieve Their Philanthropic Objectives

To transform higher education, it is imperative that alumni and donors target their giving to programs that maintain the highest standards of excellence and intellectual integrity. Too often, giving to a school’s general fund or endowment means underwriting an unacceptable status quo of weak curricula, campus speech codes, and administrative bloat. ACTA’s Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving provides step-by-step instructions for donors on how to target their giving and profiles successful gifts. Based on the principle that “it’s your money—you decide how to use it,” the Guide helps donors to decide what college activities they value most and to support those activities.

Alumni to the Rescue: Funding Oases of Excellence

On campuses all across the country, alternative programs are promoting the study of American history, Western civilization, and the Great Books, even in the absence of a full core curriculum. ACTA’s comprehensive list of over 50 Oases of Excellence provides alumni and donors with a go-to source to learn about the wonderful work these programs are doing. Alumni and donors can follow the programming these oases of excellence are sponsoring on campus and begin to share ideas about how to provide students with the classically liberal educations they deserve. If you are interested in supporting one of these programs or starting a similar one at your alma mater, ACTA is here to help.

Keeping Alumni Apprised of Higher Education Issues

Through our monthly eNewsletter, quarterly newsletter Inside Academe, publications, press releases, and media appearances, ACTA keeps alumni informed about what is really happening on campus.

ATHENA Roundtable

ACTA’s annual signature event  brings together alumni, individual donors and foundations, trustees, and nationwide leaders in higher education to discuss academic excellence, academic freedom, and accountability. Each year, the Roundtable culminates in the presentation of the Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education, (link to ATHENA page) which honors individuals who advance liberal arts education, core curricula, and the teaching of Western civilization and American history.

Alumni Groups

Alumni are college “insiders” outside the walls of the ivory tower. They can play a vital role in ensuring that their alma maters remain true to their highest ideals and distinct characters. But too often, colleges want only donations from alumni—not input about upholding academic standards. ACTA helps alumni groups bring their informed perspective to bear on matters of academic excellence, freedom, and accountability. Several alumni groups have successfully promoted reforms with ACTA’s help. Among those alumni groups  are The Society for the College of William & Mary; A Better Colgate; Hamilton Alumni for Governance Reform; Committee for the CUNY Future; Scholars for the University of Chicago; and Dartmouth Alumni for Open Governance. In addition, ACTA has launched ACTA−New England, a group of distinguished professional, business, and education leaders who focus on core curricula, academic freedom, and high academic standards at schools in New England.

Customized Services for Donors: The Fund for Academic Renewal (FAR)

FAR provides donors with assistance on how to ensure that their gifts support academic programs that exemplify the highest academic standards, an unpoliticized approach to education, and commitment to study of the greatest achievements of human civilization, and a critical appreciation of the heritage and principles of a free society. FAR offers an array of choices for giving that fit donors’ varying financial situations and philanthropic objectives. The ACTA board approves grants in furtherance of the mission of ACTA. For further information, contact us.

Our Initiatives


The Intelligent Donor’s Guide to College Giving

April 2011by Anne D. Nealby Michael Poliakoff |  

This guide provides step-by-step instructions for donors on how to target their giving, with profiles of successful gifts. American philanthropists long have...

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Up, up and away

Richmond Times-Dispatch
June 20, 2013 |

College students and their parents know all too well the punishing financial terms higher education can inflict. The price of a college education has...

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St. Mary’s College: a cautionary tale for America’s bloated higher education system

Baltimore Sun
May 29, 2013 |

"Please sir, I want some more."

The famous phrase of Oliver Twist would seem tragically appropriate when it comes to the modus operandi of American higher...

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Most NCAA Division I athletic departments take subsidies

USA Today
May 8, 2013 |

At a time of tight budgets throughout higher education, even the nation's few financially self-sufficient major-college athletics departments are continuing...

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Academic quality, affordability, and accountability rarely happen on their own—they take engaged leadership.

Trustees are key. Exercising final legal responsibility, trustees are in a position to be independent arbiters who can balance competing institutional demands with public interests in mind. They can provide a fresh perspective and an openness to new solutions. But they can only make this contribution if they are given the independent information and resources they need.

"Change in institutional strategy can only come from trustees."

- Benno Schmidt, chairman, CUNY Board of Trustees

What We Are Doing

Outlining Best Practices

In recent years, nonprofit governance has been under increasing scrutiny—and ACTA has been instrumental in outlining best practices for higher education boards. ACTA was at the forefront of reforms following the governance controversy at Penn State University in 2012, including advising Pennsylvania’s Auditor General. In 2014, over 20 national higher education leaders published a report on university governance that adopts many of ACTA’s recommendations for college and university trustees. ACTA’s library of resources contains a variety of materials for trustees on best practices.

Trustee Seminars

In partnership with the Aspen Institute, ACTA gathers together college and university trustees to share perspectives on critical issues in higher education. These regional seminars, hosted at venues including the Harvard Faculty Club and the historic Mount Vernon estate, provide opportunities for trustees to reflect with others about their unique roles as public fiduciaries.

"ACTA, like no other organization, is reaching out to trustees and alumni to insist on a quality liberal arts education that is fundamental to an educated citizenry."

– David McCullough, historian

Trustee Outreach

Trustees receive timely, informative materials designed to bring authoritative insights on key higher education topics. In addition to ACTA’s various special reports and guides, trustees hear from experts such as bestselling author (and university trustee) Clayton Christensen, on disruptive innovation in higher education; or NYU sociology professor Richard Arum, on the findings from his groundbreaking study, Academically Adrift. And in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Apex Foundation, ACTA sent Inside the Nonprofit Boardroom, a guide to engaged and effective governance, to its network of over 14,000 trustees. Viewing trustees as responsible fiduciaries of their institutions, ACTA provides material and advice directly to trustees, giving them the opportunity for independent consultation and deliberation.

Trustees for Better Teachers

Launched in 2000, Trustees for Better Teachers is an initiative aimed at helping trustees understand how they can best be involved in improving teacher education in the United States.  ACTA’s report Teachers Who Can: How Informed Trustees Can Ensure Teacher Quality identifies the critical problems in teacher education, outlines the principles and criteria for an excellent teacher preparation program, along with real-life examples of programs that work in practice, along with step-by-step action plan for trustees.

ATHENA Roundtable

ACTA’s annual signature event brings trustees together with nationwide leaders in higher education. Each year, the Roundtable culminates in the presentation of The Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education, honoring individuals that advance liberal arts education, core curricula, and the teaching of Western civilization and American history.

Customized Services

ACTA’s Institute for Effective Governance (IEG), founded by college and university trustees, provides independent information to trustees in order to help them focus on critical issues of academic quality, academic freedom, and accountability.  Recognized by the Wall Street Journal as helping “university trustees avoid becoming a rubber stamp for the status quo,” IEG and its network of experts work with boards for orientations, retreats, board or presidential review, and strategic planning, among other areas. 

In addition, ACTA regularly provides consultation services for individual trustees seeking to learn more about best practices, comparison metrics, or about any issue pertinent to their specific institution.

Our Initiatives


College and University Trustees: Real Reform or Business as Usual?

August 27, 2014 |

On August 19 the intrepid American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) released a timely report on the governance of colleges and universities. “Governance...

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Who’s To Blame for Challenges in Higher Education?

Bloomberg TV
August 19, 2014 |

CUNY board chairman and former Yale president Benno Schmidt discusses the unprecedented challenges facing higher education today and the vital role trustees...

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Secrecy shrouding finalists in university chancellor or presidential searches becoming the norm

Harrisburg Patriot-News
July 24, 2013 |

The days of being open about the finalists in university presidential or chancellor searches may be nearing an end—and higher education has itself to thank...

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ACTA works around the country to promote high academic standards, a strong liberal arts based core curriculum, an end to grade inflation, improved teacher training, and increased accountability.

ACTA serves as a go-to resource for governors and legislators interested in academic excellence, academic freedom, and accountability. From expert testimony, to organizing events for public trustees, to in-depth policy research, ACTA works around the country to promote high academic standards, a strong liberal arts based core curriculum, an end to grade inflation, improved teacher training, and increased accountability.


Testimony and Policy Research

State and federal legislators look to ACTA’s expertise and depth of research as a resource for developing long-term solutions to the challenges facing higher education. ACTA has provided testimony before various legislatures and commissions in Louisiana, New Jersey, Georgia, and Montana, among other states, as well before as the U.S. Senate Finance Committee roundtable. ACTA has provided guidance to the Joint Oversight Committee of the Texas State Legislature and the Pennsylvania Auditor General’s office during its investigation of Penn State University. ACTA President Anne Neal serves as a member of the federal National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.

Trustee Orientation and Training

ACTA works with governors and coordinating boards across the country to educate both new and veteran trustees. In 2014, ACTA facilitated the publication of Governance for a New Era, a groundbreaking report by over 20 national leaders that provides a blueprint for governing boards. ACTA regularly organizes seminars focusing on national trends in higher education as well as state-specific initiatives, providing trustees with the information they need to uphold their fiduciary duty to the public interest. In recent months, ACTA has held seminars for trustees in conjunction with the Aspen Institute in Virginia, Chicago, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and ACTA staff have given presentations on effective governance in South Carolina, Virginia, and Indiana at the invitation of their state governors.

"If we are going to make the kinds of improvement we need ... [trustees] are going to have to press for it, and measure it, and demand results..."

– Governor Mitch Daniels, Indiana Trustees Academy

Reaching Out to Governors

In public higher education, where 80% of students are now enrolled, the best way to reach trustees is through the governors. ACTA works around the country to engage reform-minded governors to challenge the current direction of higher education. ACTA helps governors develop an agenda for higher education reform, identify strong board appointees, organize Governors' Conferences for College and University Trustees and provide follow-up work with trustees to implement reform agendas. ACTA has successfully applied this approach in New York, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and Texas. In 2011, ACTA released Leading the Charge: Governors, Higher Education, and Accountability, a guide to help governors reform public higher education in their states.

Accreditation Reform

For more than 60 years, accreditation has been the Congressional safeguard for billions of taxpayer dollars expended in student loan money. However, while Americans fork over billions of their hard-earned funds, quality is down and costs are up. Meanwhile, accreditors are imposing "standards" that raise costs and undermine institutional autonomy and diversity—historic strengths of American higher education. ACTA’s seminal publications, Why Accreditation Doesn't Work and What Policymakers Can Do About It and Can College Accreditation Live Up to Its Promise? highlight what needs to be done. In 2012, ACTA president Anne Neal co-authored the minority report to the U.S. Department of Education on strategies to reform and improve higher education accreditation.

Our Initiatives


Governance for a New Era

August 2014by Benno C. Schmidt |  

Governance for a New Era, a blueprint for higher education governance, is the product of a summit facilitated by ACTA and chaired by Benno Schmidt, City...

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Leading the Charge

August 2014by ACTA |  

With this new tool, ACTA is working to expand its outreach to governors nationwide on behalf of higher education reform, focusing on key issues of quality,...

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Protecting Students and Taxpayers

September 2013by Hank Brown |  

When it comes to federal funding of higher education, the government's approach to quality assurance and consumer protection is a public policy and...

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Scathing report says college trustees fail in mission

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
August 20, 2014 |

Trustees at many American colleges and universities abandoned the public trust and allowed standards to slip even as costs soared and public confidence in...

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Report: Congress Should Reform College Accreditation to Save Students, Taxpayers

U.S. News & World Report
September 30, 2013 |

As Congress embarks on its mission to reauthorize the law that governs the flow of federal financial aid dollars, some education experts say the government...

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U.S. House of Representatives Holds Hearing on Accreditation

Council for Higher Education & Accreditation: Federal Updates
June 13, 2013 |

On June 13, 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Higher Education and the Workforce held a hearing focusing on accreditation. The hearing...

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