Education: The Academically Average

Five years ago, Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa was a classic example of the fading U.S. church-related college. Founded in 1875, Presbyterian Parsons was so broke that its entire endowment was in escrow. While other U.S. colleges fended off armies of applicants, Parsons, with a total enrollment of 212, could not even attract stragglers through newspaper ads. One jump ahead of the sheriff, it was barely two jumps from losing accreditation.

Last week, billing itself as "the fastest growing college in Mid-America," Parsons announced a booming fall enrollment of 1,487 students from 37...

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