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Aims McGuinness

Senior Fellow


Aims McGuinness is a Senior Fellow with NCHEMS. He specializes in governance and state coordination of higher education; the history, functions, and current issues facing public university systems; and international comparison of education reform.

Prior to joining NCHEMS in 1993, he was director of higher education policy at the Education Commission of the States (ECS). Before joining ECS in 1975, was executive assistant (chief of staff) to the Chancellor of the University of Maine System.

Over the past forty years, Aims has advised most of the states that have conducted major studies of their higher education systems and undertaken higher education reforms. Among his major projects were serving, along with NCHEMS colleagues, as consultant in the development of the landmark 1997 Kentucky Postsecondary Education Reform Act, and in the establishment of new community and technical college systems in Kentucky and Louisiana. Over the years, he has worked in all the 50 states with state governments and university systems on projects related to strategic planning, governance reform and other issues.

Aims is the author of several publications on state higher education policy, university systems and governance. He initiated the State Postsecondary Education Structures Sourcebook, a basic reference guide to state coordination and governance in the United States. Recent publications include, “History and Evolution of Higher Education Systems in the United States” and “Serving Public Purposes: Challenges for Systems in Changing State Context,” Higher Education Systems 3.0, Lane, J. and Johnstone, B., editors, SUNY Press, 2013; State Policy Leadership for The Future: History of State Coordination And Governance and Alternatives for the Future: Education Commission of the States, 2016; and “State Higher Education Structures and Institutional Accreditation: Background Information for Consideration of Alternatives for the Future,” paper prepared for Council on Higher Education Accreditation project on higher education systems and accreditation, 2021.

At the international level Aims conducted policy reviews and advised governments on education policy, primarily through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank, including policy reviews and projects in Australia, the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Greece, India, Israel, Ireland, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Malaysia, the Russian Federation, and Turkey. Among his assignments were serving on the International Strategic Experts Group to the Russian Ministry of Education on implementation of the Concept for Modernization of Russian Education, 2002-2004, and chairing the international task force leading to the 2011 OECD report, Strong Performers and Successful Reforms: Education Policy Advice to Greece, making recommendations to the Government of Greece on reforms in primary, secondary and higher education.

Education & Training

Aims earned his undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Pennsylvania, an MBA from The George Washington University, and a Ph.D. in social science from the Maxwell School, Syracuse University.

Outside Interests

Aims enjoys spending time with his wife, Susie, living during the summer on a small island off the coast of Maine; rowing, walking and watching birds and other wildlife in Colorado and Maine; playing the organ; reading history and biographies; and volunteering with many church and community organizations.

Why I Work With NCHEMS

My work with NCHEMS began at the organization’s earliest years long before 1993 when I officially joined the staff. I first learned of NCHEMS in 1969. I followed its early work when the University of Maine System chancellor served on an NCHEMS technical advisory committee. In 1973-74, I staffed US Senator William Hathaway who served on the National Commission on Financing Postsecondary Education. It was then that NCHEMS provided analytic and technical support to the commission. Through my years at ECS, I worked with NCHEMS on numerous projects, in particular on a mid-1980s project on state policy and undergraduate education and a subsequent Pew-funded project on state higher education policy. When I joined NCHEMS in 1993, I especially appreciated the opportunity to work with colleagues who were nationally recognized authorities on data analysis/information systems, quality assessment, and strategic planning and budgeting, and financing higher education. I have further appreciated that NCHEMS places the needs of students and the public interest at the forefront of projects; uses data analysis as a core element of all projects; and emphasizes developing practical policy alternatives for institutions, systems and systems. NCHEMS has always had an outstanding organizational culture emphasizing teamwork, sharing, and opportunities for professional development. Never could I have had the opportunity to work over the past thirty years to work on projects involving every single state and many countries throughout the world without the support and encouragement of my NCHEMS colleagues.