The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) is a Washington, D.C.-based organization whose more than 430 members include U.S. public colleges, universities, and thirty systems of higher education. More than half of the students in public four-year institutions in America are enrolled in colleges and universities that belong to AASCU. According to the AASCU website, as of 2001 more than one-third of the bachelor's degrees, more than one-quarter of the master's degrees, and almost 10 percent of the doctorates in the United States have been awarded by AASCU members.
AASCU's basic aims are to increase knowledge of the importance of public higher education in the United States and to identify the distinctive contributions of AASCU institutions. The association operates through a series of commissions, committees, and task forces in which the membership's chancellors and presidents participate in discussions and take action on the major issues in higher education. AASCU aids its members in building academic quality, intellectual diversity, and academic freedom. The mission of AASCU is supported by a structure of operating divisions. For example, the association's Division of Government Relations and Policy Analysis monitors and analyzes public policy relating to higher education and acts as an advocate for its members in policy matters at the national, state, and campus levels. Within the division, Federal Relations and Policy Analysis lobbies for AASCU members, keeps the membership informed on current legislative proposals, and arranges for presidents and chancellors to testify before congressional committees. State Relations and Policy Analysis looks at affairs at the state level and keeps the membership informed through "EdLines," a weekly online news service; the annual State Issues Digest; and the State Issues Network. The subdivision of State Relations is cosponsor of an annual State Relations conference. AASCU has an Office of Urban and Metropolitan Programs, which maintains an information clearing-house and acts as an advocate for urban institutions. The association has an Office of Rural Programs, which represents the interests of rural institutions of higher education and aids these institutions in revitalizing rural America.
The Division of Academic Leadership and Change deals with academic program issues. Its Office of Teacher Education seeks, through collaborative efforts, to improve teacher preparation. An International Education Office promotes AASCU members' participation in international education. There is also an Office for the Advancement of Public Black Colleges (OAPBC), cosponsored with the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC), which advocates the advancement of historically black public colleges and universities.
AASCU has two national conferences each year–a summer council, held in July, which brings together college and university presidents and their families for professional development, and an annual meeting in November for discussions of national higher education policy issues. The organization makes available professional development and support for member chief executive officers and their spouses. The spouse program provides an opportunity for presidents' spouses to meet during the national meetings. A spouse-mentoring program assists the spouses of new presidents and chancellors.
The association has a history of advocating low tuition and equal opportunity. It aids its institutions in finding ways to increase access to higher education for historically underrepresented and financially disadvantaged students, and it helps colleges and universities promote diversity. AASCU's president is a member of the small group of higher education associations that meets informally once a week to discuss issues of common interest, particularly in relation to federal legislation that affects their members. This group, often identified as the Big Six, represents the major types of higher education institutions in the United States. AASCU's membership overlaps with the NASULGC and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), and these three often find common ground for cooperation on federal policy, promoting low tuition, and exploring state and urban issues.
One of the major associations representing public higher education, AASCU was created in response to the rapid expansion of a higher education sector in the 1960s and 1970s that was underrepresented nationally: comprehensive state universities, many of which had been teachers' colleges; municipal universities; agricultural schools; institutes of technology; and four-year institutions that had been community colleges.