Thoughts on CNN's Ivory Tower

20140428190004!Ivory_Tower_poster I picked up Ivory Tower recently from Redbox to watch with my partner (who also works in higher education) after hearing buzz about it all year. It came out earlier this year in theaters, was released on digital & disc a few months ago and since it was produced by CNN Films, it was broadcast there as well very recently.

Directed by Andrew Rossi, the film gives a general overview of the current state of higher education. The bloated costs, the extravagant spending, the partying, and the lack of actual learning just to name a few of the perceived problems facing institutions. Through interviews and enlightening graphics, we see where we are, and the impact it is having on students and our society. I found most of the accusations and information to be fair and from a neutral stance. The argument against rising costs is a valid one and is hit upon frequently in the film (as is often the case). I did feel as though the issues of learning, retention, graduation, and student development did not get their fair share of the focus, but it didn't seem to be the aim of the film to go in depth with any particular aspect of what is ailing higher ed.

I must say though, I agree a lot with what the film has to say. We need to get student debt under control (with better forgiveness options, help with repayment, and the option for bankruptcy settlements), we need to espouse the value of a degree more, and we need to make sure we are creating value through being nimble with the changing world around us. It's hard to put a price tag on the transformative experience of college, but we can do better with more grants, scholarships, and assistance that isn't loans. We shouldn't be profiting off of these lifelines for students looking to higher education as a way up in society.

I also enjoyed how the movie highlights some unique institutions across the country like Cooper Union and Deep Springs College, as well as the benefits of HBCUs and women's colleges. I believe that institutions need to embrace their differences and what makes them unique rather than try to all be the same. All the ends up giving us is the ridiculous "arms race" we have now where institutions are all just trying to be better versions of each other rather than going all in on what they do best. That could mean certain academic programs, a special residential experience, or the niche events/programs you have for your community.

I recommend every working in higher education & student affairs check out this film. It is a good contrary look at our current state and more importantly, how we are perceived.

Let me know your thoughts here or on Twitter if you've seen it or see it at some point. I'd love to hear what you think of it.

Thanks for stopping by.