5 Jan 2015

Ivory Tower -- the review

This documentary "questions the cost -- and value -- of higher education in the United States."

The main focus is on how students are going into debt as costs rise from additional administrators and vanity projects like fancy dorms, climbing walls, etc. (The extra money is not going to higher professor salaries.)

The film looks at the usual suspects (Stanford, Harvard) as well as other models -- Wesleyan (small liberal arts), Cal State San Jose (large public college), Deep Springs (very small, free, two year), and Coursera/edX/Udacity (online).

The films spends a lot of time at NYC's Cooper Union as a perfect example of a worrying phenomena: a school deciding -- after over 150 years of free education -- to charge tuition to students due to "costs" that include a president making $750,000 per year and a $175 million building that was supposed to generate rental income.

Although I found the "poetic" side of the film (the future of our youth) to be compelling, I would have added more on these issues:
  • The way that many universities have raised their fees to absorb additional financial aid meant to lower students' financial burdens
  • The lack of demand for more graduates with unmarketable degrees
  • The impact of slow graduation rates (and drop outs) on universities and student debt
In response to this film (and its familiar themes), I would give my standard advice: young people should think long and hard about why they want to go to university and what they want to study. Many could benefit from a "gap year" after high school. Then they should choose a university that will deliver what they need (not 10x what they need) at the lowest financial and logistical costs. Once they matriculate, they should finish as quickly as possible to minimize their debt and get themselves into "the real world" to put their knowledge to work. If they think they need a masters degree, then they should get 2-5 years of experience so they know what topic to "master."

Bottom Line: I give this move 4 STARS for drawing attention to a serious problem in which schools rip off kids (and parents) who have trusted them with their future.