Tag Archives: The Ivory Tower

Movie Review: The Ivory Tower

24 Jun


As a freelance writer I have often thought to myself “was the cost of my private liberal arts school education worth it?” This often occurs when I am checking my student loan statement, which I am still painfully paying off more than 10 years after I earned my bachelor’s degree.

It is all about perspective. I was the first one in my family to go to college right out of high school, my degree helped me get my first job at a newspaper, and the connections I made benefited me personally and professional. For many, this is not the case. They leave college thousands of dollars in debt, with no job prospects on the horizon.

The new documentary, Ivory Tower, by filmmaker Andrew Rossi examines this new hitch in the American Dream – is the cost of tuition to many of the elite universities too high?

Ironically I am sitting in a Starbucks writing this review, Starbucks announced earlier this month that they have teamed up with Arizona State University to offer free college courses for Starbucks employees. Helping them “finish college.”

According to The Project on Student Debt, the average debt for students who took out loans in graduating class of 2012 is $29,400. In June of 2008 the unemployment rate was 8.2 percent. You can do the math.

Ivory Tower looks directly at the pressure of attending college with the nitty gritty details of how the cost higher education has ballooned. Families are looking at college bills ranging from $20,000 annually to $60,000 annually.  The film provides great examples of where this tuition is going, mostly to new buildings and the salaries of executives (not professors). It also details the predatory practices of private student loans, leaving many graduates unable to pay their ever-growing debt. The film even explores alternatives to traditional college, like the Thiel Fellowship and open sourced online education like Coursera and edx.

Though all the charts and history are interesting, the film doesn’t even address it’s initial question: was it worth it? There were no balanced examples of graduates who had “average” debt and landed a good job or who’s life was improved by taking on the debt.

Sure, we all know by now that colleges are a business and they are in it to make money, but it ends leaving the viewer with more questions than answers. If universities and lenders are just looking to cash in on the ideal of higher education and online classes (a cheaper version) are not an effective learning tool then what should one do? Learn a trade, self-educate, settle for the non-brand name education? Can the government help?

Honestly, I found the whole documentary to be depressing (I do have kids after all and I have no idea how we are paying for college). But the worst part is I found myself second-guessing the degree I worked so hard for and am still paying off. Applying to colleges and selecting one is a family decision, it is also a very personal one. Just because you got in, doesn’t mean you can afford it. It is different for each person. Really, the question should be is college worth it for me?

While the film might shock some people and remove the rose-colored glasses, it is not helpful overall. On the other hand, the website for the film is. There are links to the FAFSA, a tutorial on how to read financial aid award letters, and options for those managing their student loan debt. Now  that is worth something!