Jan 19th 2006 | NEW YORK
From The Economist print edition
Rebuilding the American dream machine
FOR America's colleges, January is a month of reckoning. Most applications for the next academic year beginning in the autumn have to be made by the end of December, so a university's popularity is put to an objective standard: how many people want to attend. One of the more unlikely offices to have been flooded with mail is that of the City University of New York (CUNY), a public college that lacks, among other things, a famous sports team, bucolic campuses and raucous parties (it doesn't even have dorms), and, until recently, academic credibility.
A primary draw at CUNY is a programme for particularly clever students, launched in 2001. Some 1,100 of the 60,000 students at CUNY's five top schools receive a rare thing in the costly world of American colleges: free education. Those accepted by CUNY's honours programme pay no tuition fees; instead they receive a stipend of $7,500 (to help with general expenses) and a puter. Applications for early admissions into next year's programme are up 70%.
Admission has nothing to do with being an athlete, or a child of an alumnus, or having an influential sponsor, or being a member of a particularly aggrieved ethnic group—criteria that are increasingly important at America's elite colleges. Most of the students who apply to the honours e fr