SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah is one of the newest members of the prestigious Association of American Universities.

AAU President Mary Sue Coleman announced Wednesday that U. President Ruth V. Watkins had accepted an invitation on behalf of the university to join the association. Its newest members, the University of California, Santa Cruz, Dartmouth College and the U. bring the number of AAU institutions to 65.

“AAU’s membership is limited to institutions at the forefront of scientific inquiry and educational excellence,” said Coleman.

“These world-class institutions are a welcome addition, and we look forward to working with them as we continue to shape policy for higher education, science and innovation.”

The invitations extended to the new members were the first extended by AAU since 2012. An association committee periodically reviews universities and recommends them to the full association for membership, where a three-fourths vote is required to confirm the invitation.

Watkins said the university was “delighted to be invited to join the Association of American Universities, the most prestigious association in higher education.”

AAU requires its member institutions to be engaged at the highest levels of research, scholarship and education, she said.

“Our selection as one of AAU’s newest members reflects the excellence the University of Utah has achieved in each of these areas,” Watkins said.

It also confirms the quality and caliber of the U.’s faculty and their innovative work to advance knowledge and address grand societal challenges, Watkins said.

“This will open new paths for our researchers and our institution to be at the forefront of higher education research, education, programs and policies,” she said.

The AAU has recognized the most outstanding academic institutions in the nation for more than 100 years. Some of its members include fellow PAC-12 peers the University of Arizona; Stanford University; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Colorado; University of Oregon; University of Southern California; and the University of Washington.

Members include 63 public and private universities and two in Canada. Other members include Harvard University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Yale University; University of Virginia; University of Michigan; University of Texas at Austin; and California Institute of Technology.

Harris Simmons, chairman of the Utah State Board of Regents, said the AAU invitation “is a marvelous achievement for the University of Utah and for our state.”

“It is well-deserved recognition of the outstanding quality of the U.’s faculty and academic programs,” he said. “It also is an incredible accomplishment for President Watkins, whose leadership is guiding our flagship institution to national prominence and proving influential within our entire system of higher education. It is a big win for us all.”

The AAU formed in 1900 to promote and raise standards for university research and education.

Membership in AAU is by invitation only and is based on an extensive set of quantitative indicators and qualitative judgments that assess the breadth and quality of a university’s research, graduate and undergraduate education programs, according to its website.

“Our member universities earn the majority of competitively awarded federal funding for research that improves public health, seeks to address national challenges and contributes significantly to our economic strength, while educating and training tomorrow’s visionary leaders and innovators,” the website notes.

“AAU member universities collectively help shape policy for higher education, science and innovation; promote best practices in undergraduate and graduate education; and strengthen the contributions of leading research universities to American society,” its website states.

Membership criteria are based on a university’s research funding; the proportion of faculty elected to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine; the impact of research and scholarship; and student outcomes. The U.’s research funding reached $547 million in fiscal year 2019. The U. has 21 academies members with some elected to more than one academy.

“Our students and our community will be the ultimate beneficiaries of these endeavors. I want to thank the association for recognizing the tremendous progress of the University of Utah in achieving comprehensive excellence and filling its role as our state’s flagship research institution,” Watkins said.

H. David Burton, chairman of the U.’s board of trustees, said the AAU invitation is the result of the investment Utahns make in the university.

“We already knew that the U. was one of the jewels of Utah and of the Intermountain West. This invitation shows that we are one of the jewels of the entire nation,” Burton said.