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"Ivory Tower" Movie Review: 4 Stars
by Kenneth Turan
Is college, specifically the elite four-year residential model, overrated? Is it worth its ever-increasing cost? Has it been oversold as the key to a child's brighter future? The stimulating documentary "Ivory Tower" asks all these tough questions and, most provocatively of all, declines to give definitive answers.
As directed by Andrew Rossi, "Ivory Tower" wants to educate and stir the pot, to get us to understand the extent of the dilemma, which is considerable.
This film throws an enormous amount of information at us both in terms of original interviews and archival footage from more than 100 sources, but it's too sophisticated to suggest that any one-size-fits-all solution is lurking just over the horizon.
That's partly because nothing about the college imbroglio is as simple as it seems, not even the eye-popping costs, which can be as high as $60,000 per year, an expense level that gives parents sticker shock from coast to coast.
Yes, the cost of college tuition is staggeringly high -- since 1978 it has increased more than any other good or service. Yes, the nation's student loan debt incurred to help pay those fees is now at a just-about-unsustainable $1 trillion-plus -- more even than what we owe on credit cards.
But on the other side of the ledger, as The
To help us understand how we got to where we are now, "Ivory Tower" takes us on a tour of some half a dozen colleges and universities, each one carefully selected to make a point about the looming crisis that all this debt and spending seem to be inevitably leading to.
First stop is
A different dynamic is at work at many large state universities like the one Rossi visits,
To attract these out-of-staters, state universities often focus on the notion of the student as consumer, throwing in perk after party-school perk -- dorms with plasma TVs, climbing walls -- as they chase tuition dollars. Education is often lost in the process: 68 percent of public university students do not graduate in four years, and 44 percent do not make it out in six.
Yet for every school like
"Ivory Tower" also visits Atlanta's
The film also spends a considerable amount of time at
Ever evenhanded, "Ivory Tower" also examines the phenomenon of MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, and finds them not to be quite the panacea they initially promised to be.
If you're considering college for your children or are just a concerned citizen, this comprehensive documentary gives you a lot to ponder.
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1:30.
As tuition rates spiral beyond reach and student loan debt passes $1 trillion (more than credit card debt), this documentary asks: Is college worth the cost? From the halls of Harvard, to public colleges in financial crisis, to Silicon Valley, filmmaker Andrew Rossi assembles an urgent portrait of a great American institution at the breaking point.
'Ivory Tower' Movie Review & Movie Trailer