The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) is a national organization that represents Jesuit higher education among its various constituencies; provides a forum for the exchange of information and experiences in Jesuit higher education; and encourages and facilitates collaborative initiatives among its member institutions. Those initiatives include: fostering Jesuit, Catholic identity and mission; educating for a faith that does justice; supporting national, international and online collaborations between campuses; and sponsoring professional and leadership development programs.
The Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) is the successor to the Commission on Colleges and Universities of the Jesuit Educational Association (JEA), which since 1936 had served as the umbrella organization for both Jesuit secondary and postsecondary education. Rev. Edward Rooney, S.J. served as Executive Director of JEA from 1937-1966. Rev. Paul Reinert, S.J. succeeded Fr. Rooney as JEA president from 1966-1970.
In 1970, AJCU became its own national organization with the following purposes: 1) Continued study of new educational issues through the lense of Jesuit policy and practice; 2) Continued effort to improve educational effectiveness of Jesuit colleges and universities; 3) Effective promotion of inter-institutional cooperation, especially among Jesuit institutions; 4) A unified influence in national organizations, programs and developments; 5) Effective assistance in participating in Federal and other national programs supporting research and educational projects; 6) Effective dissemination to member institutions of information important to Jesuit higher education; and 7) To be a forum for the exchange of experiences and best practices.
The first president of AJCU was Rev. A. William Crandell, S.J., (1970-71), who was followed by Rev. John Fitterer, S.J. (1971-77); Rev. William McInnes, S.J. (1977-89); Rev. Paul Tipton, S.J. (1989-1995); Rev. James Carter, S.J. (Interim,1995-1996); Rev. James Sauve, S.J. (1996 – died in office); Rev. Donald Monan, S.J. (Interim, 1996-97); Rev. Charles L. Currie, S.J. (1997-2011); Rev. Gregory F. Lucey, S.J. (2011-2013); Rev. Michael J. Sheeran, S.J. (2013-2020); and Rev. Michael J. Garanzini, S.J. (2020-present).
For the first twenty years of its existence, the AJCU staff was small, comprised of a president, associate director, and an administrative assistant. Much of the work focused on providing the presidents of Jesuit colleges and universities with information to support them in their leadership, sponsoring AJCU Conferences (now Networks), building relationships with other higher education associations, government relations, collecting data for the AJCU Fact Files, and planning AJCU Board Meetings. Over time, the number of staff members was increased to serve the expanded needs of its membership.
From the beginning, the Association has played a leadership role in advocating for public support for private education and was part of the development of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU). AJCU also played a key role in the development of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution, Ex corde Ecclesiae, that laid out his vision for what a Catholic university should be. Rev. James Sauve, S.J. developed the final draft, and AJCU later worked closely with Monika Hellwig, former president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, on the implementation of the document, including the mandatum for theologians. AJCU was consulted on many occasions to provide guidance on how the document should be lived out at Jesuit institutions.
AJCU has sponsored, encouraged, and facilitated the work of various AJCU Networks that have increasingly become the locus for collaboration among our 28 member institutions (note: in 2019, Wheeling Jesuit University became disaffiliated from the then-Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus; in 2020, St. John’s College in Belize became a full member of AJCU). The Networks have also served as forums for the exchange of ideas and best practices, and have supported the professional development of administrators, faculty and staff. In 1972, there were 20 Networks; today, the number has more than doubled to 40+ Networks.
In 1999, AJCU launched the Jesuit Distance Education Network (JesuitNET). JesuitNET was a collaborative effort to develop high-quality online educational programs within the perspective of Ignatian pedagogy. To help faculty incorporate Ignatian pedagogy into their online courses, JesuitNET staff created the Competency Assessment in Distributed Education (CADE) model. JesuitNET was influential in expanding its outreach to international institutions and programs, including its current successor, Jesuit Worldwide Learning.
Since 2000, AJCU has taken the lead on many new and collaborative initiatives. Some highlights include the establishment of the AJCU Leadership Institute (formerly know as the Jesuit Leadership Seminar), Ignatian Colleagues Program, and the AJCU Trustee Forum; the creation of a consortium for study abroad programs; the development of a set of white papers on Church-related issues; the coordination (with the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges) of a workshop and handbook on Mission and Identity at Catholic colleges and universities; the publication of Characteristics of Jesuit Higher Education: A Guide for Mission Reflection; the implementation of the Mission Priority Examen (MPE); and a national joint advertising campaign centered on Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States in 2015.
In keeping with the Jesuit credo of the Magis, there will always be more to do and ways to do it better. In the years to come, AJCU will continue to be a dynamic organization that will take every opportunity to support its membership with new ideas, programs and services, and provide the leadership to make collaboration happen.
The Society of Jesus, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, was one of the first orders of educators within the Catholic Church. A Jesuit higher education is grounded in the liberal arts tradition with a focus on quality teaching, critical thinking, and rigorous academic standards and scholarship. It is guided by a spirituality that seeks justice. Inspired by the tenets of Catholic social teaching and its intellectual and social justice traditions, a Jesuit higher education places great emphasis on forming “people for others.” Students are engaged in a process of exploring the distinctive and constructive ways in which their knowledge and talents will best serve society.
Reflective of their rich academic experience, students at Jesuit colleges and universities regularly receive Rhodes, Truman and Fulbright Scholarships. Many distinguished graduates of Jesuit institutions have reached the highest levels in their fields, including former President Bill Clinton, scientist Anthony Fauci, journalist Norah O’Donnell, actor Denzel Washington, and NBA Coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers. Descartes, Moliere and James Joyce were likewise shaped by their Jesuit education.
While some Jesuit alumni might be more recognizable than others, many share the distinction of using their education to serve and to lead. Of the roughly 2.1 million living alumni of the 27 U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities, 10 percent are members of the U.S. Congress. Countless more have assumed leadership positions at the state and federal levels of government.
A Jesuit higher education provides students with the opportunity to become thoughtful, competent and compassionate people for others, with a commitment to the greater good and a passion for justice, preparing them for lives of leadership and service. It is through this distinctive mode of education that Jesuit colleges and universities are changing the world, one student at a time.