Ivory Tower is a competent, slickly-produced documentary that takes a hard look at the cost and perceived benefits of higher education in the United States. That the price of college has been on a steady rise for decades hardly qualifies as new news, but the toll it is taking on young people over the course of four years or more cannot be dismissed. Whether or not you believe education should be free for all, as the late Peter Cooper did, it would seem we can all agree that accruing over $100,000 in student loan debt for a Bachelor’s Degree is crippling and defies all logic.
Writer/director Andrew Rossi tours the country and explores the broad ways in which higher education is administered. From the labor-intensive, self-governing Deep Springs College to Cooper Union, founded by the aforementioned Cooper as a free and open college, Rossi does an excellent job of examining how diverse higher education can be. Ivory Tower is at its finest when in investigative mode, laying out the disturbing facts with a plethora of graphs and line charts. The cost of a traditional higher education, be it in-state universities or even community colleges, has become so obscene that some believe people may just decide it’s not worth it. Why go into six-figure debt when you can work during that time? And with the rapid evolution of e-learning, why not just teach yourself and gain real-world experience independently?
These are only a few of the questions Ivory Tower poses. As devastating as some of the facts can be, the film offers no easy solutions because there aren’t any. With the bulk of tuition now going to administration (as opposed to professors), higher education has become a game of one-upmanship among the privileged. Facilities must always be state of the art, perks for students have become huge selling points, and the price tag for fielding competitive sports teams has skyrocketed. Ivory Tower does run a bit long in the tooth with what feels like padded-out human interest segments, but as an incriminating piece on the financial expenditure for a component of the American Dream, it’s well worth a watch.
Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Length: 90 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some suggestive and partying images.
Theatrical Release: June 27, 2014 (NY)
Directed by: Andrew Rossi
Written by: Andrew Rossi
Cast: Andrew Delbanco