Top Higher Education Conferences to Attend in 2020-2021 [Updated]

Industry Advice Education

The higher education industry is experiencing significant changes to curricula, teaching methods, technology, student affairs, recruitment, and retention. Accelerating these changes even further is the emergence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which has impacted nearly every facet in the world of higher education.

At the same time, academic institutions—and their leaders—are faced with increased scrutiny from the academic community, accreditors, students, and parents. Now, more than ever, effective and flexible leadership is critical to an educational institution’s success. 

One way for leaders in higher ed to stay ahead of the curve is by attending the nation’s top higher education conferences. These conferences are an excellent opportunity for education professionals to develop valuable connections, exchange innovative ideas, share best practices, and learn new skills. 

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Of course, during such a hectic time, it can be difficult to properly budget for these events and to keep track of each event’s status. For instance: Which conferences have been postponed due to the pandemic? Have any been canceled? Will there be any changes to the conference format, such as moving to a full virtual experience?

Knowing the status of these higher education conferences for the remainder of 2020 and 2021 is critical to mapping out your schedule to gain the most value for you and your institution.

That’s why we’ve put together an updated list of the top higher ed conferences for your team to consider in 2020 and 2021. Use this list to narrow your choices for any upcoming must-attend conferences, so that your school can stay abreast of emerging trends in the ever-evolving landscape of higher education.

Top 10 Higher Education Conferences of 2020

1. Diversity Abroad Annual Conference

Date: August 3-7, 2020

Format: Virtual

The 8th annual Diversity Abroad Conference is moving online for 2020. Hosted by the University of New Orleans, the late summer virtual event features a theme of “Amplifying Voices: Moving from Rhetoric to Systemic Change.”

Running in conjunction with the Global Student Leadership Summit and the MSI Global Education Summit, the conference provides a comprehensive national forum on issues of access, diversity, equity, and inclusivity in global education. Hundreds of education professionals, student leaders, employers, and leading graduate programs will meet online to work toward academic success, interpersonal growth, and career readiness through innovative approaches to advancing global equity.

2. NACAC National Conference

Date: September 24-26, 2020

Format: In-person

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Hosted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, an update on this year’s conference can be found here. The NACAC board plans to evaluate a potential shift to either a hybrid or all-virtual conference format for the annual event, and it should be noted that the NACAC’s upcoming GWI conference has already moved online. 

Thousands of counseling and admission professionals are drawn to the annual event to collaborate and learn about the latest trends, innovations, technologies, and best practices for leaders in higher ed. The three-day event features more than 100 educational sessions along with dozens of presentations, workshops, seminars, and more.

3. HighEdWeb 2020

Date: October 19-20, 2020

Format: Virtual

The annual conference of the Higher Education Web Professionals is moving online for 2020. The annual conference is unique because it’s created by and for higher education professionals where each year, these professionals gather to discuss the latest digital issues surrounding colleges and universities.

With multiple presentations, workshops, and keynote sessions, HighEdWeb is a must-attend for any administrator searching for the latest and best solutions to digital strategies in higher education.

4. Leadership in Higher Education Conference

Date: October 1-December 31, 2020

Format: Virtual

The Leadership in Higher Education Conference recently announced that this year’s event will be held entirely online. With no travel required, higher education professionals can enjoy on-demand access to nearly every aspect of the conference.

By downloading the conference app, attendees will have access to each informational session (including captioning.) The app also includes virtual handouts, links to live workshops, and opportunities to connect with others before and after each session.

5. AAC&U 2020 Transforming STEM Higher Education

Date: November 5-7, 2020

Format: In-person

Location: Arlington, VA

With a focus on empowering STEM faculty, the Association of American Colleges & Universities hosts an annual meeting aimed at transforming undergraduate STEM teaching and learning. AAC&U’s goal is that “all STEM faculty are equipped to effectively implement best practices for undergraduate STEM teaching within any institutional context, for any student demographic, despite existing systems of oppression.” 

The conference annually brings together more than 500 STEM faculty, administrators, and other roles in related disciplines that support STEM education. A recap of last year’s event can be found here.

Top Upcoming Higher Education Conferences in 2021

Because the health situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic is still in flux, some of the conferences listed below may modify their formats. Events that are currently scheduled to take place in person, for instance, may shift online if the pandemic is not brought under reasonable control; on the other hand, virtual events may shift to become in-person conferences if there is a speedy resolution. 

(The information below is accurate as of July 2020 and will be updated periodically to reflect the changing situation.)

1. NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo

Date: May 30-June 4, 2021

Location: Orlando, FL

NAFSA 2020 was scheduled to take place from May 24-29 in St. Louis MO. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, organizers were forced to cancel this year’s conference. In response to the cancellation, event organizers scheduled a five-day eConnection for attendees to connect virtually.

For 2021, attendees can look forward to meeting in Orlando from May 30-June 4. Hosted by the Association of International Educators, the annual conference highlights issues surrounding international education and exchange. More than 9,000 attendees from 100 countries attend each year, making the event consistently the largest gathering of international educators on a global scale.

2. AAC&U Annual Meeting

Date: January 20-23, 2021

Location: Seattle, WA

Titled “Revolutionizing Higher Education After Covid-19”, next year’s annual AAC&U meeting will evaluate how higher education institutions are reacting to the current climate. Specifically, the Association of American Colleges & Universities will take a look at questions, issues, and potential solutions surrounding higher education in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With workshops, networking opportunities, and information sessions, the annual conference features multiple opportunities for growth and learning. Financial educational models will also be a topic of discussion, as the AAC&U seeks to bring industry professionals together in order to work out what undergraduate education will look like in a post-pandemic world.

3. ACE2021—The American Council on Education’s 103rd Annual Meeting

Date: March 20-22, 2021

Location: Washington, DC

The 102nd meeting for the American Council on Education was originally scheduled to take place from March 14-16 in San Diego, CA, but this year’s event was canceled due to public health concerns surrounding the pandemic. Attendees can, however, look forward to the 103rd meeting set for next spring in Washington, DC.

Regarded as the most distinguished higher education event nationwide, more than 2,000 executive leaders in higher education regularly attend the annual conference. With a focus on data-driven insights, next year’s participants can look forward to three days full of networking opportunities, information sessions, and more.

Looking for More?

These higher education conferences for 2020 and 2021 are a great place for educational leaders to start improving their organizational leadership capabilities.

For education professionals looking for more comprehensive leadership training, however, a Doctor of Education (EDD) might be the next step. Northeastern’s Doctor of Education program, for example, rigorously prepares leaders to investigate, explore, and transform organizational and institutional landscapes, empowering its graduates to pursue the issues they’re passionate about.

To learn more, and to see if an EDD is right for you, explore our program page, or download our e-book below.


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