By Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times.
Is college, specifically the elite four-year residential model, overrated? Is it worth its ever-increasing cost? Has it been oversold as the key to a child’s brighter future?
The stimulating documentary “Ivory Tower” asks all these tough questions and, most provocatively of all, declines to give definitive answers.
As directed by Andrew Rossi, whose last work was the informative “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” “Ivory Tower” wants to educate and stir the pot, to get us to understand the extent of the dilemma, which is considerable.
This film throws an enormous amount of information at us both in terms of original interviews and archival footage from more than 100 sources, but it’s too sophisticated to suggest that any one-size-fits-all solution is lurking just over the horizon.
That’s partly because nothing about the college imbroglio is as simple as it seems, not even the eye-popping costs, which can be as high as $60,000 per year, an expense level that gives parents sticker shock from coast to coast.
Yes, the cost of college tuition is staggeringly high, since 1978 it has increased more than any other good or service. Yes, the nation’s student loan debt incurred to help pay those fees is now at a just-about-unsustainable $1-trillion-plus, more even than what we owe on credit cards.
But on the other side of the ledger, as the New York Times reported just a few weeks ago, analysis of recent income statistics shows that “the pay gap between college graduates and everyone else reached a record high last year.” No matter how much college costs, statistically it still pays to go.
To help us understand how we got to where we are now, “Ivory Tower” takes us on a tour of some half a dozen colleges and universities, each one carefully selected to make a point about the looming crisis that all this debt and spending seems to be inevitably leading to.