The topic of student debt is certainly not a new phenomenon. IVORY TOWER doesn’t necessarily shed new light regarding this issue. It does a great job peeling away at the layers of the onion that is the crisis of the institution of higher education.
IVORY TOWER highlights that the higher education system is on a tipping point and if something doesn’t change, it will come crashing down. Some may object to this idea, but it certainly should not be ignored. Student loan debt in the US is now over the one-trillion dollar mark. America is the so-called land of opportunity, but the current landscape leaves graduating students with difficult job prospects, strapped with burdening debt.
This documentary, which is finely crafted by Andrew Rossi, was an official selection of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and digs deeper to discover the many different facets that are plaguing young students in America. Whether the system focuses more on the experience vs. the education or where college professors would rather focus their time on research vs. teaching, or the rising cost of a college education, there is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed.
IVORY TOWER is very sharp, witty and deals on a personal level. As a graduate of the American higher education institution, it was rather shocking to hear testimony of students with graduate degrees who could not get a job cleaning toilets. How could this be? I understand that the job market has been tough for graduating students, but I could not wrap my mind around this. Notwithstanding, I can understand this frustration. It’s an extremely competitive job market and even advancing your education does not make for any guarantees.
While the documentary focuses mainly on the problems that higher education is facing in America, I thought it should have presented some effective solutions to issues like student debt for example. There are degrees that hold more value than others and some which are a complete waste of a student’s time and resources. If students have to incur debt to reach their goals, what are the better degree programs they should be involved in? I understand individuals want to study what they love, or what they have a passion in. What if those interests turn into nothing but shattered dreams; who is to blame? Also, where does the American higher education system stand in comparison to other developed nations? This is clearly an American dilemma, but it would have been interesting to see a benchmark. The documentary does question the value of college education, but it doesn’t discount the worth of one as compared to just a high school education. Even though it may seem as the bubble is bursting, there are still redeeming qualities to a college education.
IVORY TOWER uses a MPEG-4AVC codec with a 1:85:1 aspect ratio. I was completely surprised by how great the picture quality was. The presentation was crisp, clear with excellent contrast. College campuses can be very picturesque with great architecture and beautiful foliage. The camera does a great job at capturing this scenery and you get a feeling as if you’re right there. Skin complexions are so accurate, too, that you can see all the finest details from the individual hairs on a professor’s hair to the wrinkles on their skin. Overall, the video presentation pops, which is an unexpected but welcomed bonus to this documentary.
The audio soundtrack can’t compare to the video presentation in IVORY TOWER. It’s still very effective, though. In between the dialogue, there is a soundtrack that adds to the entertainment of the presentation. Since this is a documentary, though, it’s dialogue centric. The disc uses a DTS-HD MA 5.1 sound presentation and it does the job. I think even if this disc only came with a 3-channel soundtrack, it would more than suffice. This is not the type of material that is going to work your system for every dollar it is worth.
Q’s & A’s on Opening Weekend (16 minutes)
Takes place at the Angelika Film Center in New York City, which hosted the screening of IVORY TOWER. The panel consists of Andrew Rossi and student/star Victoria Sobel. The pair answers questions from what are the ingredients on the box of higher education to will the bubble burst on higher education. The audio is weak here so you have to turn up the volume. There is a segment here called ‘How Can Audiences Take Action Outside the Theater.’ Rossi talks about taking the word to the online social community. I would have liked to see some of this in the actual documentary.
Clayton Christensen & Andrew Delblanco debate disruption in higher education (3 minutes) – Two authors with different viewpoints on how to solve the problems of rising costs higher education costs discuss different ways to alleviate the problems that the higher education system is facing. Some solutions to the problem that were cut out of the documentary are displayed in the deleted scenes section.
Anthony Carnevale discusses college and social inequality (4 minutes) – Carnevale discusses how the higher education is not a need base model. Kids who need the most help are going to colleges and universities where they will not receive it, whereas, students who have a better ability to learn attend schools where the quality is the highest and have a lesser need for additional help. He goes on further to discuss that the current system protects the interests of elites in society. This is a very interesting piece that also could have brought value in the actual feature.
While I enjoyed IVORY TOWER and it is a good expose on the pitfalls of the institution that is higher education, it’s not perfect. I felt that it was too neutral and did not provide to offer enough solutions to the many issues the higher education system is facing. The running time is 90 minutes, so I think there was some room to focus on effective solutions. Possible solutions were relegated to the supplements of the disc. It’s possible that Andrew Rossi did not want to turn off viewers by taking a side as taking a side would detract from drilling the message home. As I mentioned previously, the institution of higher education is at a tipping point whether you choose to agree with it or not. IVORY TOWER does a good at delivering that message. Whether viewers have experienced what is higher education or not, IVORY TOWER is a documentary that can reinforce beliefs or enlighten people on the many issues surrounding higher education. If you fall in these categories, give this film a try.