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The Inception of the Meaning and Significance of Endowment in American Higher Education, 1890–1930

by Bruce A. Kimball & Benjamin Ashby Johnson - 2012

Background/Context: Endowments of institutions of higher education in the United States have attracted widespread attention in recent decades due to their meteoric rise in value and their precipitous decline during the recent recession. But there has been little research on the beginnings of the significant interest in and importance of endowments.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study examines how the importance of endowment, the emphasis upon increasing it, the competition for it, and even its current meaning originated between 1890 and 1930. The research focused on the emerging meaning and significance of endowment in higher education in the United States, demonstrated by the eight universities that acquired the largest endowments during the period between 1890 and 1930.

Research Design: This study presents a historical analysis relying on published documents and archival records from the period between 1890 and 1930.

Conclusions/Recommendations: While colleges have long had permanent invested funds, endowment first acquired its meaning and significance in U.S. higher education between 1890 and 1930 as universities realized that their autonomy, stability, and comparative advantage over competitors depended heavily on the amount of their financial capital. The universities that first made this realization began to focus on increasing their endowment and thereby established an upper tier of wealthy universities that maintained this elite status through the ensuing century. Consequently, the inception of endowment between 1890 and 1930 had far-reaching influence on the stratification of higher education in the United States.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 10, 2012, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16669, Date Accessed: 9/28/2021 4:38:09 AM

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About the Author
  • Bruce Kimball
    Ohio State University
    BRUCE A. KIMBALL, a professor in the School of Educational Policy & Leadership at Ohio State University, is pursuing research on the emergence of “free money” ideology, fundraising, and endowments in American higher education as a Guggenheim Fellow in 2012. His most recent books are The Inception of Modern Professional Education: C. C. Langdell, 1826–1906 (2009) and The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Documentary History (2010).
  • Benjamin Johnson
    Ohio State University
    E-mail Author
    BENJAMIN ASHBY JOHNSON is a Ph.D. candidate in history and philosophy of education with an emphasis in higher education policy at Ohio State University. His research interests include endowment building, leadership, faculty–student mentoring, and comparative and international education. He is currently working on a dissertation that asks why and how the University of Michigan eclipsed Ohio State University in building an endowment in the critical period from 1910 to 1940. His recent publications include “The Ethics of Corporatization: Competing Visions for University Leadership,” Philosophical Studies in Education 41 (2010): 95–105, and with Bruce A. Kimball, “The Beginning of ‘Free Money’ Ideology in American Universities: Charles W. Eliot at Harvard, 1869–1909,” History of Education Quarterly (forthcoming).
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