National Affairs: Crisis in the Colleges: Can They Pay Their Way?

For a few days each June, U.S. higher education can afford the celebrating mood. It puts on its gayest trappings, forms its great processions, fills the air with the sound of tolling bells and ringing phrases on the meaning of learning and life. At no time of year do the nation's 1,700 colleges and universities seem to bloom more brightly than at Commencement.

This June, the bloom also has some of the surface aspects of a boom. One after another, each campus has announced the total of gifts and bequests received during the year,...

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