Documentary Weighs Cost Of College

Career College Central summary:

  • Filmmaker Andrew Rossi’s new documentary, “Ivory Tower,” attempts to answer a question that’s on the minds of many debt-ridden, unemployed graduates: Is college a racket? The result is a scathing and dizzyingly thorough critique of the “time bomb” that is American higher education.
  • Rossi takes viewers from the gothic gates of Harvard to the vast bacchanal of Arizona State to plucky Silicon Valley startups that threaten to upend the very idea of the classic campus experience. The film tethers these diverse institutions to the same worsening problems: ballooning tuition costs driven by the “arms race” of providing luxury facilities to student-consumers; predatory loan systems burying students in debt; and the endangerment of a useful, worthwhile college degree in an era of job scarcity and rampant inequality.
  • The many characters and experts in "Ivory Tower," which opens Friday, all agree on one thing: higher education in this country is broken, and we may be reaching a tipping point very soon.
  •  “Ivory Tower” comes on the heels of Obama’s executive order extending student debt relief and Elizabeth Warren’s doomed Senate bill that would have allowed student loan refinancing. When you started the film, what was the political climate like compared to now? Do you think anything has shifted at all in the public consciousness about higher education?
  • I started this film in 2011, right when student loan debt was on track to hit a trillion dollars, and when Peter Thiel was rolling out his fellowship that offers students $100,000 to drop out of college. Occupy Wall Street, and [its offshoot] Occupy Student Debt was starting to happen. The conversation surrounding traditional four-year college was extremely negative. I wanted to bring cameras on the ground at a range of universities to provide audiences with some narrative evidence about what colleges can do well and what seems to be broken.

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