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March 20, 2014 | posted in Filmmakers
1120%. $1.1 trillion. These astronomical figures seem fictional, but they are unfortunately the harsh reality of today’s higher education system. The former reflects the price increase of college in America since 1978. The latter is the nation’s staggering student loan debt. Andrew Rossi’s film, “Ivory Tower” asks, “Is college still worth it?”
While prices of other industries receive the media limelight for their steady increases, like food and healthcare, “Ivory Tower” takes a deeper look into the growing costs of higher education and what that means for students and the future of these institutions.
“When I began thinking that an investigation into the value of college would make for a dramatic documentary, one of the key inspirations was the theme of disruption,” says Rossi. “Institutional change has been at the core of almost every movie I’ve made, from the upheaval of the newspaper business, to the death of grand, formal dining, to the advent of legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.”
As expenses increase for universities to stay relevant amongst their competition, much of these costs are shouldered by students. Some institutions are leaning on advances in technology to provide more cost-effective solutions.
“When we started preproduction on “Ivory Tower,” Massive Online Courses (MOOCs – free, digital versions of some of the world’s best college classes) were just beginning to capture the imagination of technologists,” Rossi recalls. Universities were implementing more online tools to encourage virtual learning to offset costs of a lecture environment. While these methods were potentially useful to some, many educators did not want to discredit the importance of in-person learning and engagement.
Amidst some glaring problems facing universities, Rossi could not ignore the positive role higher education had played in his own life.
“Teachers, professors and classmates have been some of the most important influences, and ‘school,’ as a physical space, has provided a nurturing environment sometimes rivaling even home and church.”
Still, organizations across the country are developing alternatives to the typical four-year stint at a university. These groups are challenging those graduating high school to think differently about their future education and consider other options that may prove to be more economical and worthwhile in the long run.
“There are great achievements in the nation’s research universities, public schools, community colleges and unique, one-of-a-kind programs throughout higher education to celebrate,” Rossi reminds us. “But every parent who is thinking ahead for their children and every student who believes they can go to college and begin their “real lives” after they graduate should empower themselves with an understanding of how this four-year investment will impact their futures. My hope is that “Ivory Tower” will prompt us to rethink the social fabric that positions college as the key to social mobility and the American dream.”
— Amy Kersey
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