“Ivory Tower” shows tuition problem is nationwide

By Marcus Jones

via CNN
via CNN

Everyone knows that New York University is a very expensive school to attend, but it’s important to note that our problem is just one part of a nationwide epidemic. As government spending on education is cut more and more, the tuition of higher education institutions increases exponentially.

“Ivory Tower,” which was picked up by CNN Films from the Sundance Film Festival, gives us a better understanding of this tuition and student debt crisis as well as highlights ways some institutions have broke from the norm such as Deep Springs College in the Death Valley, which supplements education with manual labor, or our neighbor Cooper Union which was created for students pursuing practical arts. Both of these schools were made to be free to attend and the film explores the consequences of that in our economic downturn.

The film also explores Silicon Valley’s reaction to the increased price of college showcasing programs like the Thiel Fellowship, the Uncollege Movement, and massive open online course or MOOC companies like Udacity and EdX. Portions of the film also follow a low income Harvard student and touches on how rankings are playing a big part in skyrocketing tuition.

Because exorbitant tuitions are such a common problem, it’s hard to say if this film will be as damaging to the higher education industry as CNN Films’ last major Sundance acquisition, “Blackfish,” was to Sea World. It is a little more objective in the sense that it showcases different schools like Harvard, Arizona State, San Jose State, Deep Springs, etc. and dives into what each is doing right and wrong. It all feels very fly on the wall, like the filmmakers wanted to observe as much as possible so they could capture the positive and negative effects of each university system.  It’s definitely interesting to think about how your college experience would be different had you gone to these other schools.

Unfortunately, Cooper Union revealed itself to be filled with conflict and problems. In what is probably the most compelling storyline of the documentary, the audience learns the history of Cooper Union and how it has always remained free, but was operating on a deficit. What did they do to fix this? Take out a loan to spend more money building that odd shaped silver building on Bowery many of our students walk by every day, and invest in hedge funds – disastrous to say the least, especially since it was before the 2008 financial crisis. Now they are hoping to collect tuition from the students who entered the school promised a free ride as precedent for over 100 years.

“Ivory Tower” makes the audience feel sorry for one school, envy another, and reconfirm why students may not have made the choice to go to these schools or even to college in general. Did I walk away after the film regretting college?  No. In fact, this film is confirmation for NYU students that we are not the only ones in this mess. All schools have debt and tuition problems from state schools to Stanford and the reason why we are labeled as entitled is because we are fighting to have the same rights to education our parents had, where a summer job could cover a semester’s worth of tuition.

Marcus Jones is a staff writer.  Email him at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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