Association of American Universities

Association of American Universities
Association of American Universities logo.svg
Formation February 28, 1900; 120 years ago (1900-02-28)[1]
Founded at Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Type 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization[2]
Headquarters William T. Golden Center for Science and Engineering, Washington, D.C., U.S.
    • United States
    • Canada
Coordinates 38°54′02″N 77°01′43″W / 38.900490°N 77.028556°W / 38.900490; -77.028556Coordinates: 38°54′02″N 77°01′43″W / 38.900490°N 77.028556°W / 38.900490; -77.028556
Barbara Snyder[3]
Michael McRobbie

The Association of American Universities (AAU) is an organization of American research universities devoted to maintaining a strong system of academic research and education. Founded in 1900, it consists of 63 universities in the United States (both public and private) and two universities in Canada. AAU membership is by invitation only and requires an affirmative vote of three-quarters of current members.


The AAU was founded on February 28, 1900, by a group of 14 Doctor of Philosophy degree–granting universities[a] in the United States to strengthen and standardize American doctoral programs.[1] American universities—starting with Johns Hopkins University in 1876—were adopting the research-intensive German model of higher education. Lack of standardization damaged European universities' opinions of their American counterparts and many American students attended graduate school in Europe instead of staying in the U.S. The presidents of Harvard University, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Chicago, and the University of California sent a letter of invitation to eight other universities—Clark University, Cornell University, the University of Michigan, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, the University of Wisconsin, and Yale University—to meet in Chicago in February 1900 to promote and raise standards.[4] The AAU's founding members elected Harvard's Charles William Eliot as the association's first president[1] and Stanford's David Starr Jordan as its first chairman.[5]

In 1914, the AAU began accrediting undergraduate education at its member and other schools. German universities used the "AAU Accepted List" to determine whether a college's graduates were qualified for graduate programs. Regional accreditation agencies existed in the U.S. by the 1920s, and the AAU ended accrediting schools in 1948.[6]

For its first six decades, the AAU functioned as a club for the presidents and deans of elite research universities to informally discuss educational matters, and its day-to-day operations were managed by an executive secretary.[7] In the 1970s, the AAU shifted to a role of active advocacy on behalf of its members' interests; dues were raised, more staff members were hired, and its chief executive was given the title of president and the duty of becoming far more publicly visible than his predecessors.[8]

Today, the AAU consists of 65 U.S. and Canadian universities of varying sizes and missions that share a commitment to research. The organization’s primary purpose is to provide a forum for the development and implementation of institutional and national policies in order to strengthen programs in academic research, scholarship, and education at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels.


The largest attraction of the AAU for many schools, especially nonmembers, is prestige. Since the AAU's founding, it has "been a grouping of the elite in the American university world," and "[n]ew presidents of nonmember universities often list gaining admission to the AAU as a goal of their administration."[7] For example, in 2010 the chancellor of nonmember North Carolina State University described it as "the pre-eminent research-intensive membership group. To be a part of that organization is something N.C. State aspires to."[9] A spokesman for nonmember University of Connecticut called it "perhaps the most elite organization in higher education. You'd probably be hard-pressed to find a major research university that didn't want to be a member of the AAU."[10] In 2012, the newly elected chancellor of University of Massachusetts Amherst, a nonmember of AAU, reaffirmed the objective of elevating the campus to AAU standards and the hope of becoming a member in the near future, and called it a distinctive status.[11] Because of the lengthy and difficult entrance process, boards of trustees, state legislators, and donors often see membership as evidence of the quality of a university.[9]

The AAU acts as a lobbyist at its headquarters in the city of Washington, DC, for research and higher education funding and for policy and regulatory issues affecting research universities. The association holds two meetings annually, both in Washington. Separate meetings are held for university presidents, provosts, and other officials. Because the meetings are private, they offer the opportunity for discussion without media coverage. Prominent government officials, businessmen, and others often speak to the groups.[9]


Executive Term
Thomas A. Bartlett 1977–1982
Robert M. Rosenzweig 1983–1993
Cornelius J. Pings 1993–1998
Nils Hasselmo 1998–2006
Robert M. Berdahl 2006–2011
Hunter R. Rawlings III 2011–2016
Mary Sue Coleman 2016–2020
Barbara Snyder 2020–present


As of 2004, AAU members accounted for 58 percent[b] of U.S. universities' research grants and contract income and 52 percent of all doctorates awarded in the United States. Since 1999, 43 percent of all Nobel Prize winners and 74 percent of winners at U.S. institutions have been affiliated with an AAU university. Approximately two-thirds of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 2006 Class of Fellows are affiliated with an AAU university. The faculties at AAU universities include 2,993 members of the United States National Academies (82 percent of all members): the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine (2004).[12]

  • Undergraduate students: 1,044,759; 7 percent nationally
  • Undergraduate degrees awarded: 235,328; 17 percent nationally
  • Graduate students: 418,066; 20 percent nationally
  • Master's degrees awarded: 106,971; 19 percent nationally
  • Professional degrees awarded: 20,859; 25 percent nationally
  • Doctorates awarded: 22,747; 52 percent nationally
  • Postdoctoral fellows: 30,430; 67 percent nationally
  • Students studying abroad: 57,205
  • National Merit/Achievement Scholars (2004): 5,434; 63 percent nationally
  • Faculty: approximately 72,000


AAU membership is by invitation only, which requires an affirmative vote of three-fourths of current members. Invitations are considered periodically, based in part on an assessment of the breadth and quality of university programs of research and graduate education, as well as undergraduate education. The association ranks its members using four criteria: research spending, the percentage of faculty who are members of the National Academies, faculty awards, and citations. Two-thirds of members can vote to revoke membership for poor rankings.[13][14] As of 2010 annual dues are $80,500.[9] All 63 U.S. members of the AAU are also classified as Highest Research Activity (R1) Universities by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

Institution[15] State or Province Control Established Year joined Total students U.S. News Global Ranking (2021)[16] U.S. News National Ranking (2021)[17] Medical school[18][19]
(LCME accredited)
Engineering program[20]
(ABET accredited)
Boston University Massachusetts Private 1839 2012 30,009 57 42 Green tickY Green tickY
Brandeis University Massachusetts Private 1948 1985 5,808 244 42 Red XN Red XN
Brown University Rhode Island Private 1764 1933 8,619 101 14 Green tickY Green tickY
California Institute of Technology California Private 1891 1934 2,231 7 9 Red XN Green tickY
Carnegie Mellon University Pennsylvania Private 1900 1982 12,908 94 26 Red XN Green tickY
Case Western Reserve University Ohio Private 1826 1969 11,824 142 42 Green tickY Green tickY
Columbia University New York Private 1754 1900 29,250 6 3 Green tickY Green tickY
Cornell University New York Private 1865 1900 21,904 22 18 Green tickY Green tickY
Dartmouth College New Hampshire Private 1769 2019[21] 6,571 226 13 Green tickY Green tickY
Duke University North Carolina Private 1838 1938 14,600 23 12 Green tickY Green tickY
Emory University Georgia Private 1836 1995 14,513 71 21 Green tickY Red XN[c]
Georgia Institute of Technology Georgia Public 1885 2010 29,370 66 35 Red XN Green tickY
Harvard University Massachusetts Private 1636 1900 21,000 1 2 Green tickY Green tickY
Indiana University Bloomington Indiana Public 1820 1909 42,731 127 76 Red XN Red XN
Iowa State University Iowa Public 1858 1958 36,001 231 118 Red XN Green tickY
Johns Hopkins University Maryland Private 1876 1900 23,073 10 9 Green tickY Green tickY
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Massachusetts Private 1861 1934 11,319 2 4 Red XN Green tickY
McGill University Quebec Public 1821 1926 36,904 51 N/A[d] Green tickY Green tickY
Michigan State University Michigan Public 1855 1964 49,300 100 80 Green tickY Green tickY
New York University New York Private 1831 1950 53,711 29 30 Green tickY Green tickY
Northwestern University Illinois Private 1851 1917 21,208 24 9 Green tickY Green tickY
Ohio State University Ohio Public 1870 1916 57,466 45 53 Green tickY Green tickY
Pennsylvania State University Pennsylvania Public 1855 1958 45,518 75 63 Green tickY Green tickY
Princeton University New Jersey Private 1746 1900 8,010 11 1 Red XN Green tickY
Purdue University Indiana Public 1869 1958 39,256 114 53 Red XN Green tickY
Rice University Texas Private 1912 1985 6,487 128 16 Red XN Green tickY
Rutgers University–New Brunswick New Jersey Public 1766 1989 41,565 113 63 Red XN Green tickY
Stanford University California Private 1891 1900 15,877 3 6 Green tickY Green tickY
Stony Brook University New York Public 1957 2001 26,814 176 88 Green tickY Green tickY
Texas A&M University Texas Public 1876 2001 62,185 130 66 Green tickY Green tickY
Tulane University Louisiana Private 1834 1958 13,462 440 41 Green tickY Green tickY
University at Buffalo New York Public 1846 1989 30,183 277 88 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Arizona Arizona Public 1885 1985 40,223 97 97 Green tickY Green tickY
University of California, Berkeley California Public 1868 1900 36,204 4 22 Red XN Green tickY
University of California, Davis California Public 1905 1996 34,175 66 39 Green tickY Green tickY
University of California, Irvine California Public 1965 1996 29,588 78 35 Green tickY Green tickY
University of California, Los Angeles California Public 1919 1974 42,163 13 20 Green tickY Green tickY
University of California, San Diego California Public 1960 1982 30,310 21 35 Green tickY Green tickY
University of California, Santa Barbara California Public 1944 1995 25,057 56 30 Red XN Green tickY
University of California, Santa Cruz California Public 1965 2019[23] 19,457 81 97 Red XN Green tickY
The University of Chicago Illinois Private 1890 1900 14,954 15 6 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Colorado Boulder Colorado Public 1876 1966 32,775 59 103 Red XN Green tickY
University of Florida Florida Public 1853 1985 49,042 107 30 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign Illinois Public 1867 1908 44,520 60 47 Green tickY Green tickY
The University of Iowa Iowa Public 1847 1909 31,065 160 88 Green tickY Green tickY
The University of Kansas Kansas Public 1865 1909 27,983 284 124 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Maryland, College Park Maryland Public 1856 1969 37,631 60 58 Red XN Green tickY
University of Michigan Michigan Public 1817 1900 43,426 17 24 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Minnesota Minnesota Public 1851 1908 51,853 47 66 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Missouri Missouri Public 1839 1908 35,441 374 124 Green tickY Green tickY
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill North Carolina Public 1789 1922 29,390 30 28 Green tickY Green tickY[e]
University of Oregon Oregon Public 1876 1969 22,980 232 103 Red XN Red XN
University of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania Private 1740 1900 24,630 14 8 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Public 1787 1974 28,649 43 58 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Rochester New York Private 1850 1941 10,290 140 34 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Southern California California Private 1880 1969 48,500 70 24 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Texas at Austin Texas Public 1883 1929 51,000 38 42 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Toronto Ontario Public 1827 1926 84,000 17 N/A[d] Green tickY Green tickY
University of Utah Utah Public 1850 2019[25][26] 32,994 142 97 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Virginia Virginia Public 1819 1904 24,360 109 26 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Washington Washington Public 1861 1950 43,762 8 58 Green tickY Green tickY
University of Wisconsin–Madison Wisconsin Public 1848 1900 43,275 41 42 Green tickY Green tickY
Vanderbilt University Tennessee Private 1873 1950 12,795 72 14 Green tickY Green tickY
Washington University in St. Louis Missouri Private 1853 1923 14,117 33 16 Green tickY Green tickY
Yale University Connecticut Private 1701 1900 13,609 11 4 Green tickY Green tickY

Former members

Departed as a result of "institutional emphases and energies" that differed from the other AAU members. [27]
Departed because of a shift in the AAU's emphasis to large research universities. [28]
Removed from the AAU. [29] Chancellor Harvey Perlman said that the lack of an on-campus medical school (the Medical Center is a separate campus of the University of Nebraska system) and the AAU's disregarding of USDA-funded agricultural research in its metrics hurt the university's performance in the association's internal ranking system. [13] In 2010 Perlman stated that had Nebraska not been part of the AAU, the Big Ten Conference would likely not have invited it to become the athletic conference's 12th member. [10]
Because of a dispute over how to count nonfederal grants, Syracuse voluntarily withdrew from the AAU in 2011. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that after "it became clear that Syracuse wouldn't meet the association's revised membership criteria, university officials decided that they would leave the organization voluntarily, rather than face a vote like Nebraska's, and notified the leadership of their intentions." [30]

Map of schools



In 2014, the AAU supported the proposed Research and Development Efficiency Act arguing that the legislation "can lead to a long-needed reduction in the regulatory burden currently imposed on universities and their faculty members who conduct research on behalf of the federal government."[31] According to the AAU, "too often federal requirements" for accounting for federal grant money "are ill-conceived, ineffective, and/or duplicative."[31] This wastes the researchers' times and "reduces the time they can devote to discovery and innovation and increases institutional compliance costs."[31] AAU institutions are frequently involved in U.S. science policy debates. In 2008, AAU Vice President for Policy, Tobin Smith, co-authored a textbook on U.S. science policy.

Ranking of research universities

The Center for Measuring University Performance is a research center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Its annual report, The Top American Research Universities,[32] ranks them on nine different measures: Total Research, Federal Research, Endowment Assets, Annual Giving, National Academy Members, Faculty Awards, Doctorates Granted, Postdoctoral Appointees, and SAT/ACT range. This ranking's influence within the academic community has been described as being "commonly regarded to be one of three indicators that reflect an institution's rank as a Tier One institution", the other two being the classification of a university with "very high research activity" by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, and membership within the Association of American Universities.[33]

See also