Ideas are powerful, but they’re also perishable. While they can change lives, they need to be defended and passed on to each new generation. The Fund for American Studies champions a core set of principles – freedom, individual responsibility and free markets – which we believe define the essence of the American political tradition. We strive to have a profound effect on the lives of our students by passing on the ideas that offer the greatest opportunity for personal fulfillment and human accomplishment.
The Founding and Early Years
TFAS was established in 1967 in response to the political and social upheaval of the 1960s. As widespread protests of the Vietnam War and U.S. government policy erupted, confidence in the American system of government was eroding. The counterculture and many youth movements of the 1960s not only rejected the American political tradition, but also actively worked to undermine and subvert the ideas and principles on which America was built.
Surveying this political and social landscape, Charles Edison, former Governor of New Jersey, Secretary of the Navy and son of the inventor Thomas Alva Edison, recognized that college students needed a balanced perspective on political and economic institutions. In 1967, Edison recruited Dr. Walter H. Judd, David R. Jones, Marvin Liebman and William F. Buckley, Jr. to help him establish the institution that is today known as The Fund for American Studies.
The inaugural TFAS Institute on Comparative Political and Economic Systems hosted 56 college students during the summer of 1970 at Georgetown University. TFAS’s partnership with Georgetown University was based on a shared commitment to academic integrity and a belief in the power of ideas. TFAS also organized conferences on college campuses throughout the U.S. on topics of journalism, business and economics. In 1985, TFAS created a second undergraduate program on political journalism to educate aspiring journalists about economics and journalism ethics. This program established for TFAS a foothold in journalism education that continues today.
New educational programs were added over the years, but the core educational mission of the organization never wavered. Each TFAS program is designed to engage students in a spirited examination of the values of a free society. TFAS professors are chosen for their passion for teaching and for their ability to communicate ideas to students representing a diverse spectrum of thought. TFAS courses are uniquely designed by our faculty to bring the ideas of liberty to life.
The Middle Decades
In the early 1990s, TFAS received a multi-million dollar bequest from the estate of John Engalitcheff, a Russian immigrant-turned-entrepreneur who had a strong appreciation for the founding principles of his adopted country. The Engalitcheff bequest provided financial stability for TFAS and sparked a period of major program expansion. One of the first new initiatives in the early 1990s was providing scholarships to bring students from Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to attend TFAS programs in Washington.
As demand for these scholarships exploded, TFAS brought the program to Europe, launching a summer institute at Charles University in Prague in 1993. This unique program brings together students from former Soviet bloc countries and the United States to learn about the principles of democracy and free enterprise. TFAS added a second European program in Greece in 1996, serving students from the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean. Later, TFAS replicated that model on other continents, establishing an Asia program in Hong Kong (2002) and a Latin America program in Santiago, Chile (2008).
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., TFAS expanded its summer programs, adding tracks in business-government relations, philanthropy and voluntary service, and international affairs. In 2003, TFAS went year-round, launching fall and spring Capital Semester programs. In 2007, TFAS expanded its reach to law students by establishing a summer law institute based on the model of its undergraduate programs.
In recent years, TFAS has grown by establishing several key partnerships with existing organizations. In 2013, the prestigious Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship Program was merged into TFAS. The program awards yearlong fellowships to young journalists pursuing writing projects that advance constitutional principles, a democratic society and a vibrant free-enterprise system.
Also in 2013, TFAS established a strategic partnership with the Foundation for Teaching Economics (FTE), and in 2019, the two nonprofits formally merged, bringing FTE’s programs for high school teachers and students under the TFAS umbrella of academic offerings. Through the FTE programs, TFAS introduces high school students to an economic way of thinking about national and international issues. By choosing to expand into programming for high school students and young professionals, TFAS sought to create an educational journey for its students, spanning from adolescence into adulthood.
2013 was also a pivotal year for TFAS collegiate programs, as an academic partnership was secured with George Mason University, allowing students to earn credit for their TFAS courses through the university. With its world-renowned economics department, Mason is an ideal fit for TFAS programs, which require every student to take a course in free-market economics.
In 2016, TFAS entered into a partnership with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute to launch a new summer and semester program. Leadership and the American Presidency (LTAP) enables college students to examine lessons from the American presidency and develop the skills and character traits necessary to become the next generation of citizen leaders.
The Next 50 Years
Today, the TFAS alumni network continues to grow in size and influence. There are 42,000 alumni worldwide, and many have reached the pinnacle of professions such as journalism, academia, business and public policy. Each year, hundreds of alumni participate in TFAS-sponsored seminars and fellowships – or serve as mentors, intern sponsors and guest speakers. As we forge ahead into the next 50 years, TFAS will seek to further engage and mobilize its alumni network, while also strengthening and expanding its educational programs for young leaders.
With a renewed commitment to its mission, continued support from thousands of generous donors, wise leadership from the Board, strong management and dedicated alumni, TFAS has all the ingredients for continued success for decades to come.