Originally known as the Council for Financial Aid to Education, CAE was established in New York in 1952 by a group of executives under the leadership of Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. (General Motors) to advance corporate support for higher education. Their goal was to increase the number of citizens who went to college.

From 1952 to 1989 CAE ran a highly successful national campaign with the Ad Council called "Give to the College of Your Choice." A great increase in donations to higher education resulted from this campaign. During this time, CAE also produced a short film called "Education is Everybody's Business," which aired on national television for several years.

CAE was the first organization in the US to regularly provide national statistics on private giving to higher education. The Voluntary Support of Education survey (VSE) is the authoritative source on private giving to institutions of higher education and private K-12 schools nationwide. It consistently captures about 85 percent of the total voluntary support to colleges and universities in the United States. CAE has managed the survey as a public service for over 50 years. Results of the survey are distributed in annual report authored by the survey director, Ann E. Kaplan. Results are also available by subscription to an online, interactive database – VSE Data Miner.

In 1996, CAE became a subsidiary of the nonprofit research organization, the RAND Corporation. Roger Benjamin, head of RAND Education, became CAE’s president. Dr. Benjamin continues to lead CAE today.

RAND in 1997 released CAE’s report that warned of a potential fiscal crisis in American higher education. The report, Breaking the Social Contract: The Fiscal Crisis in Higher Education, showed that millions of Americans might be denied access to higher education due to unsustainable growth in costs and demand. The timely and still relevant report was based on a two-year study prepared by CAE’s national commission, co-chaired by Joseph Dionne (then chairman and CEO of The McGraw-Hill Companies) and Thomas Kean (former governor of New Jersey). The commission called upon the nation to address rising costs and shrinking state funds, and CAE echoed the commission's message through regional meetings with leaders in education, business, and government.

CAE as part of RAND became a leading resource for analysis, strategic planning, and policy recommendations for government leaders and state systems of higher education. CAE conducted major strategic planning work for state higher education systems across the country, making recommendations for how to improve student performance. These included:

  • In 1998, CAE was hired by the Mayor's Task Force on the City University of New York (CUNY) to evaluate the curriculum, mission, and governance structure of the CUNY system, the nation's largest urban public university system. [The Governance of the City University of New York; CUNY's Testing Program ]. CAE's president, Roger Benjamin, served as the executive director of the task force, which was chaired by Benno Schmidt, Chairman of the Edison Schools and the former president of Yale University.
  • In 2000, CAE conducted a study for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that helped develop a 15-year master plan for Texas higher education. CAE provided a needs-analysis of the state's regional higher education capacity and its relationship to projected regional economic development.

In addition to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the City University of New York (CUNY), CAE has conducted strategic planning work for higher education systems in California (1996-1998) and Nevada (2001-2002).

In 2002, CAE launched a national effort to assess the quality of undergraduate education by directly measuring student learning outcomes through performance tasks. This assessment model came to be known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+). CAE also developed a similar assessment for high schools and middle schools with the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA+).

CAE was spun-off from RAND in 2005 under its own Board of Directors, now chaired by Dr. Katharine Lyall, Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Wisconsin. This spin-off facilitated a focus on providing educational assessment services to client educational institutions.

To date more than 1,000 colleges and high schools have participated in the CLA and CWRA. Delivered online, the assessments use real-world problem solving tasks to measure student critical-thinking skills.

CAE also offers its assessments to international schools at both the secondary and post-secondary level. CAE recently participated in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) feasibility study with CLA performance tasks culturally adapted and translated for on-line delivery in Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

In addition, CAE now creates innovative assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards, customized for clients using the combination of creative thinking and rigorous analysis that has become our hallmark. CAE offers its expertise to the Race to the Top national consortia – PARCC and SBAC – and other agencies seeking to develop a broad array of test items that measure career and college readiness.