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.

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



ACTA’s studies provide in-depth research on academic excellence, affordability, and other critical issues facing higher education, while our series of state reports rate colleges and universities on measures of general education, intellectual diversity, governance, and cost and effectiveness. Our most recent report, Governance for a New Era, provides a blueprint for higher ed trustees.


Our guides cover a variety of topics of interest for trustees, including best practices, and provide actionable steps that trustees can take.  Asking Questions, Getting Answers is ACTA’s premiere guide, providing key questions trustees should ask regarding the academic and financial operations of their institutions.


Written by trustees with real-life experience serving as public fiduciaries, these essays provide practical advice for trustees based on proven results. In Improving University Performance Through Measurement and Management, Arizona State University provost Elizabeth Capaldi outlines important indicators trustees can use as benchmarks.


College spending comes under closer scrutiny

The Hechinger Report
February 1, 2019 by Delece Smith-Barrow |

WASHINGTON, D.C. – We know that college costs are increasing, but what’s harder to find out is where the money is going.

The American… Continue Reading >>

Records: JMU allowed former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to help create $140,000 job for himself

Richmond Times-Dispatch
December 16, 2018 by Patrick Wilson |

The president of James Madison University allowed former Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to help create a job for himself at the school, permitting him to write… Continue Reading >>

In the hunt for University of Minnesota’s next president, transparency comes under real scrutiny

The Star Tribune
November 5, 2018 by Mila Koumpilova |

Lone finalists, closed-door interviews and a lawsuit that went all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court — that’s the University of Minnesota’s… Continue Reading >>