Education and training by business has become a "booming" sector of American education as companies try to "fill the gaps" left by inadequate schools and colleges, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching says in a report released today.

The courses for corporate employes, which range from remedial work to doctoral programs, enroll nearly 8 million adults, the foundation said, and they "are developing an academic legitimacy of their own."

Their cost is more than $40 billion a year, it said, and the facilities include more than 400 campuses and buildings. It said the largest such "corporate campus" is the Xerox Learning Center near Leesburg.

To meet this challenge, traditional institutions may have to learn from the efficiency, flexibility and clear sense of purpose of their new corporate competitors, the foundation said. But foundation president Ernest L. Boyer, a former U.S. commissioner of education, warned that the copying should not go too far.

"The danger is that in a bid for survival, higher education will imitate its rivals, that careerism will dominate the campus. . . . If that happens," Boyer said, "higher education may discover that, having abandoned its own special mission, it will find itself in a contest it cannot win."

Titled "Corporate Classrooms," the 224-page report released today was written by Nell P. Eurich, a member of the Carnegie Foundation board. Founded in 1906, the Princeton, N.J.-based foundation has published a number of influential studies of American schools and colleges. Eurich is a senior consultant to the Academy for Educational Development, a nonprofit education planning group.

Eurich said the proliferation of remedial work in basic reading, writing and computation skills implies "an indictment of the schools" for graduating students who lack the fundamentals needed to perform well on almost any job. About three-fourths of major U.S. corporations reported that they have such classes, she said.

Eurich said company officials say the situation stems partly from the hiring of more blacks and other minorities with inadequate educational background to meet federal affirmative action goals, but she said many workers of other races also required remedial courses.

"Beyond basics, more and more companies are teaching analytical skills and critical thinking," she said, and they are including subjects such as foreign languages, economics, psychology and algebra.

"The companies are doing a good job," she said in an interview, "but they shouldn't have to be doing so much."

The report said that most of the advanced corporate education programs were developed because nothing like them was available in regular colleges. These include the master of computer software offered by Wang Laboratories in Massachusetts and the wide range of degrees in insurance and financial management offered by the American College of Bryn Mawr, Pa., formerly known as the American College of Life Underwriters.

The report said other major areas of corporate education are:

* Training managers and executives, often in programs that stress collaborative activities and group effort. By contrast, the report said, schools and colleges are so oriented to "individual development" that many students "may not have learned to work with others."

* Technical and scientific studies. These include 18 corporate postsecondary institutions that offer degrees, mostly bachelor's and master's, but a few doctorates, too.

* Training sales and repair workers and customers in the use of new products.

Last fall, Eurich said, a new institution, the National Technological University, based in Fort Collins, Colo., began transmitting courses by satellite to corporate classrooms around the country.

The report noted that in many company courses, far more attention is given to presenting material effectively than is done in schools and colleges. There is also much more evaluation of teachers by students and outside experts. Most teachers working for companies, it said, are paid like other salaried employes, and they do not have tenure.

The foundation suggested that a high-level council be established to help plan more cooperation between the corporation programs and the nation's colleges and schools.

In recent years, the report said, the distinction between business and college programs has lessened as company-run courses have been broadened while those in many colleges have become more vocational.

"Such nontraditional education has an essential place in our society," Boyer said. But he added that the corporate classrooms "are not likely to achieve the kind of insight and understanding that can result . . . from collegiate education at its best [whose goal] is to show how skills can be given meaning."