Debt, deception, disappointment... these are just a few of the themes that run through the documentary Ivory Tower (2014). The film explores the current higher education landscape, including staggering student debt, the growth in college administrators, and the diminishing role of the full-time instructor.
The higher education industry is riddled with problems. Costs have escalated out of control, with colleges competing for students by going into debt themselves in order to offer luxurious dorms, food and amenities. Students take out massive loans to pay for four plus years of partying and graduate with a degree that used to be a ticket to the middle class, but now often only qualifies them for a job at Starbucks. The picture seams bleak.
There are some interesting alternatives to the traditional college experience that are highlighted in the documentary. This includes tuition-free colleges that have students work while receiving their education in order to keep costs down, as well as MOOCs, community colleges that offer a flipped learning experience, and a group of learners who chose to bypass college altogether in order to hack their own education.
No One-Size-Fits-All Answers
The documentary does not provide a single solution to the many troubles facing traditional colleges and universities, but instead shows a diversity of options that have been suggested to improve higher education, though all of them have downsides. The underlying message of the film is that there is a great diversity in the needs of students, and thus no one-size-fits-all model is going to be sufficient to educate a country.
Students come from all different backgrounds, and may be seeking an all-male or all-female school, an all-black college, associates degrees, online education, technical training, networking, or a credential or certificate that can help them move up the career ladder. The film doesn't even address the thousands of adult learners and part-time students who make up the majority of college students today.
Have you seen Ivory Tower? What did you think of the film?