Film and TV

Andrew Rossi's Ivory Tower ponders the value of higher education

Although it's full of information, the documentary Ivory Tower at its core poses a question: Is the price of college worth it? The film touches on a host of issues beyond finances, including the party culture at some schools, the unique value of historically black colleges, and experimentation with online education, especially Massive Open Online Courses. What gets short shrift is the answer to the film's essential question, which, at least according to recent research, remains very much in the affirmative. Study after study, even ones that take into account today's staggering price of four years of undergraduate schooling, continues to find that, as a group, college graduates enjoy a far higher standard of living and level of income than people who don't go. The focus is on a few recent graduates with high levels of debt (indeed, student debt in America has topped $1 trillion), but doesn't explore how students and their parents could better finance their degrees; after all, average debt per student is $25,000, not a bad investment in what could be a half-million-dollar advantage over a lifetime. What the film does accomplish is that it makes you think, especially about how universities are spending their ever-increasing tuition on top-notch campus amenities and their own disastrous loans, and how state governments and federal agencies are similarly passing off their education cuts onto the young people whom they expect to one day run the economy and society.

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Daphne Howland is a regular film contributor at Voice Media Group. VMG publications include Denver Westword, Miami New Times, Phoenix New Times, Dallas Observer, Houston Press and New Times Broward-Palm Beach.