Jan 24, 2014

Sundance Review: "Ivory Tower" Makes Persuasive Points Against College Tuition

If you have ever looked at the costs of college tuition and questioned its value, then Ivory Tower is a documentary for you. It follows the hierarchy of costs that goes into prestigious, higher education and wonders where that esteem came from. The result is a fascinating, diverse, and very dense look into how American’s school system operates at its core. It explores where the money goes and the numerous alternatives to the traditional learning model. It may not answer its initial question of “Is school worth it?,” but it does provide an even sided case for everyone, leaving the decision up to the viewer.
The story begins at one of the most prestigious schools: Harvard. There, it paints the dream of becoming independent and staring your own business as something tangible, thanks largely to referenced drop-outs such as Mark Zuckerberg. From there, topics branch out into areas regarding party schools, online tutoring, and San Francisco’s growing Hackademy program. Each are given equal amount of time to discuss their case and are eventually webbed together into a strong thesis that there isn’t one perfect option out there. Each one has their benefits, provided that they are done correctly of with financial stability.
It also explores the economics that goes into tuition based on historical culture. Since the biggest universities serve as small towns unto themselves, there are great costs that go into making them look the fanciest, most equipped place in existence. Also with other measures, this is one of the biggest issues regarding costs and why funding schools has become such an epidemic since 2008. One specific example explored in detail is a strike at Cooper College, which planned to start paying tuition at a school that was cost-free. It shows that there is a desire for change, but it is only the start. By the closure of the documentary, nothing is resolved and instead simply illustrates how difficult it is to have a traditional education nowadays.
With all of these issues addressed, the resolution isn’t clear. It doesn’t suggest a side on whether you should go to college. Some options are more persuasive than others, but that is up to individual interpretation. What Ivory Tower excels at and gives it a sense of urgency and purpose is its exploitation of every possible option. For those only familiar with traditional systems, this documentary will present a lot of great alternatives that are worth looking into. It may be a little too dense and drag at points, but the exposure to this information feels like something relevant to the modern college student, whom this is squarely focused at. Despite no resolution, this will hopefully start-up discussion and change the way that money is distributed to schools.

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