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Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching


CARNEGIE FOUNDATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF TEACHING (CFAT), a private foundation, was established in 1905 by Andrew Carnegie with an endowment of $15 million. One of the oldest of American foundations, CFAT, through its retirement programs and published research reports, was among the most important organizations shaping education in the twentieth century, helping create a national system of secondary, collegiate, graduate, and professional education.

In 1906 Congress chartered the foundation "to do and perform all things necessary to encourage, uphold, and dignify the profession of the teacher and the cause of higher education." One of Carnegie's purposes for the foundation was to counteract the perceived economic radicalism of professors by providing them with secure retirements. The pension fund fundamentally reoriented American higher education. Only nonreligiously affiliated schools were eligible, so many schools separated themselves from denominational control. The retirement fund eventually developed into the Teachers Insurance Annuity Association (TIAA), which, along with the College Retirement Equities Fund (CREF), became the largest pension system in the United States. Another qualification was an admission requirement of four years of high school, leading to the standardization of curricula based on the Carnegie Unit (1908), which measured the time students studied a subject.

The most influential Carnegie report was Abraham Flexner's Medical Education in the United States and Canada (1910). In his systematic survey of all medical training institutions in the country, Flexner severely criticized substandard programs, urging that medical schools be grounded in basic research and be affiliated with universities. He later joined the Rockefeller-funded General Education Board, where he directed grant activity toward its implementation. Flexner's report became a model of similar CFAT studies directed toward educational reform, such as in law, theology, and engineering, college athletics, teacher training, and educational administration.

From the 1920s through the 1940s CFAT sponsored research encouraging a national system. The Pennsylvania Study revealed the course-credit system's weakness as a measure of academic progress. CFAT supported the development of the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, which created and administered standardized college and graduate admission tests. In the 1960s and 1970s CFAT funded numerous publications of its Commission on Higher Education, research that led to dramatically increased federal support for higher education and federal financial aid for students.

In 1973 the Carnegie Foundation published its Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, subsequently updated, an oft-cited ranking of universities based on degrees awarded and research funding. Ernest Boyer (1928–1995) led CFAT from 1979 until his death, publishing numerous reports, including High School (1983), College (1987), and The Basic School (1995), and encouraging national debates on general education, core curricula, and "the scholarship of teaching."


The Boyer Center. Home page at

Lagemann, Ellen Condliffe. Private Power for the Public Good: A History of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1983.

Wall, Joseph Frazier. Andrew Carnegie. 2d. ed. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989.

Wheatley, Stephen C. The Politics of Philanthropy: Abraham Flexner and Medical Education. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

Fred W.Beuttler

See alsoEducation, Higher: Colleges and Universities .

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