Building Future Leaders in America
The time was the late 1960s. The United States was engulfed in a seismic cultural and political shift. Radicalism dominated college campuses. Confidence in the American system of government was on the decline.
That atmosphere prompted former New Jersey Governor Charles Edison, in 1967, to lay the foundation for what would become the Fund for American Studies, a nonprofit that organizes training programs to teach college students the values of freedom, individual responsibility, and free markets.
Today, TFAS has over 13,500 alumni representing 1,900 colleges and universities, all 50 states, and 113 countries.
Built around training young people to be the leaders of tomorrow, TFAS targets students interested in fields of study that are particularly influential in society: journalism, government, political science, international affairs, nonprofits, and the law.
“The founders of the Fund for American Studies felt it was the obligation of every generation to prepare the next generation for leadership. That’s particularly true in a free society,” said TFAS President Roger Ream.
At the time that TFAS was founded, Ream says, there was a deep concern that young people weren’t getting a balanced perspective on government in the halls of higher education.
“Now the evidence is much clearer: On many colleges and universities, the faculty tends to lack the intellectual diversity that is healthy to an education,” he said. “We try to provide a more balanced perspective through the programs that we offer here.”
Economics is heavily emphasized in all of the programs.
“In all of the tracks, students are required to take some form of economics, which we think is sorely lacking in most colleges,” Ream said. “Very few students learn any economics.”
TFAS offers six eight-week institutes during the summer:
— Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems
— Institute on Economics and International Affairs
— Institute on Political Journalism
— Institute on Business and Government Affairs
— Institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Service
— Legal Studies Institute
The institutes are intense, combining lectures, coursework, internships, evening lectures, and site briefings at key institutions of national government.
Increasingly, students are drawn to the institutes on international affairs, philanthropy, and public policy, Ream said.
TFAS also offers educational opportunities during the traditional spring and fall semester. Begun in 2003, the Capital Semester Program offers a combination of coursework and an internship in Washington, D.C.
Students applying to the program must submit an academic transcript and letters of recommendation. Scholarships are available for students with a financial need — more than $1 million in scholarships is awarded annually.
That’s important for most students, because the cost of attending is equal to 6 academic credits at George Mason University, plus housing — a total of $7,995 for the summer program.
“The vast majority of our students get at least some scholarship support. It ranges anywhere from a small scholarship to a full one,” Ream said.
David Stover, a board member of the John William Pope Foundation, participated in TFAS in 1977. He has high praise for the instruction.
“There aren’t many programs where you learn about Joseph Schumpeter and the economic concept of ‘creative destruction,’ plus have a two-month exposure, through internships and speakers, to how government interfaces with the businesses, politicians, and journalists,” Stover said.
Tar Heel State focus
Over 350 alumni of TFAS live in North Carolina right now. The program always has enjoyed solid representation from N.C. State University, schools in the UNC System, Duke University, and Elon University.
“Fortunately, a lot of the students who come through this program return to North Carolina, and they’re involved in politics or business or the judiciary or journalism,” Ream said.
One of those success stories is James Sullivan, who today serves as the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Sullivan attended the Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems in the early 1970s.
“The training gave me a deep appreciation for our free-market system as contrasted with socialism,” Sullivan said. “It also helped me understand the advantages of our constitutional republic compared to other political systems around the world.”
Ream credits the Pope Foundation’s commitment with the large number of alumni in the Tar Heel State. The Foundation has given over half-a-million dollars to TFAS since 1993.
“We’ve been blessed to have the support of the Pope Foundation since 1993, and we have other donors in North Carolina who help make it possible to provide scholarships to North Carolina students to come through our program,” he said.
Ream has overseen two significant expansions of TFAS, built around reaching — and training — even more potential leaders.
On Jan. 1, 2013, TFAS acquired the Foundation for Teaching Economics, headquartered in Davis, Calif. FTE works at the high-school level, with both students and teachers, offering a range of in-person and online programs that emphasize the economic way of thinking.
On March 1, 2013, TFAS took over the Phillips Foundation’s Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Program. Founded 20 years ago, the Novak fellowship gives young journalists an opportunity to take some time off to pursue a book project or a series of stories in a particular area.
Since the early 1990s, the Novak fellowship has sponsored 117 individuals, including writers like Steve Hayes of The Weekly Standard and Tim Carney of The Washington Examiner and the American Enterprise Institute. TFAS recently selected seven new Novak fellows who will pursue topics ranging from economics and culture to foreign affairs and religion.
“They will generate some book projects and interesting articles,” Ream said.
Ream himself is a product of TFAS. He attended in the early 1970s, after which he interned for a congressman, caught “Potomac fever,” and decided to remain in Washington, D.C. Little did he know that, years later, he would be president of TFAS.
“My real passion is trying to teach economics to young people,” Ream said. “The economic way of thinking really helps us understand the way the world works. If more people knew economics, we’d have much better public policy coming out of Washington.”