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Ivory Tower

by Lapmonk Editorial
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In the ever-evolving landscape of higher education, “Ivory Tower” emerges as a thought-provoking documentary that delves into the complex issues surrounding the soaring costs, student debt crisis, and the changing dynamics of universities. Directed by Andrew Rossi, the film takes us on a journey through the hallowed halls of academia, shedding light on the challenges faced by students, educators, and institutions alike. This review aims to dissect the film’s narrative, exploring its key themes and drawing business insights that resonate far beyond the classroom.

Movie Summary:

“Ivory Tower” presents a comprehensive exploration of the American higher education system, documenting the astronomical rise in tuition fees, the burden of student loans, and the emergence of alternative educational models. The film is not merely a critique of the system but also an exploration of innovative solutions and the evolving purpose of higher education in the 21st century.

The documentary begins by highlighting the stark increase in college tuition over the past few decades, far outpacing inflation rates. The narrative then shifts to the repercussions of this trend, leading to the student debt crisis and questioning the value proposition of a traditional college education. Rossi juxtaposes the traditional college experience with emerging alternatives, such as online education platforms and vocational training programs, challenging the notion that a four-year degree is the only pathway to success.

15 Key Business Insights From the Movie:

  1. Tuition Inflation and Financial Strain: The film meticulously traces the alarming rise in tuition costs and the subsequent financial strain on students. This phenomenon has transformed higher education into a business, with universities often prioritizing profit margins over the welfare of their students.
  2. Student Debt Crisis: “Ivory Tower” sheds light on the crippling student debt crisis, emphasizing the economic burden carried by graduates. This situation not only affects individual lives but has broader implications for the economy as a whole, hindering economic mobility and contributing to societal inequalities.
  3. The Business of College Rankings: The documentary explores the impact of college rankings on institutional behavior. Universities, driven by the desire to climb these rankings, invest heavily in amenities and infrastructure, often at the expense of educational quality and accessibility.
  4. For-Profit Education: The film scrutinizes the for-profit education sector, revealing how these institutions prioritize revenue generation over educational outcomes. The emphasis on recruitment and aggressive marketing practices raises ethical questions about the commodification of education.
  5. Alternative Education Models: Rossi introduces alternative education models, such as online courses and vocational training programs, as viable alternatives to traditional degrees. This shift challenges the conventional wisdom that a college education is the only path to success.
  6. The Purpose of Higher Education: “Ivory Tower” prompts a reevaluation of the fundamental purpose of higher education. Is it solely about job preparation, or does it encompass broader goals such as personal growth, critical thinking, and the development of well-rounded citizens?
  7. Role of Technology in Education: The documentary underscores the transformative role of technology in education. Online platforms, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and digital resources are presented as tools that can democratize access to knowledge, challenging the exclusivity of traditional institutions.
  8. Faculty Challenges and Adjunctification: The film addresses the challenges faced by faculty, particularly the rise of adjunct professors with precarious job security and lower wages. This trend reflects a broader shift towards a contingent and gig-based labor market.
  9. Student Activism and Protests: “Ivory Tower” captures moments of student activism and protests, showcasing a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo. Students demand a more responsive and inclusive educational system, reflecting broader societal calls for change.
  10. Corporate Influence on Education: The documentary explores the increasing influence of corporations on higher education, from research funding to shaping curriculum. This raises concerns about the potential compromise of academic independence and the prioritization of industry interests.
  11. Innovative Funding Models: Rossi presents innovative funding models, such as income-sharing agreements (ISAs), as potential solutions to the student debt crisis. These models align the interests of students and institutions by tying tuition payments to post-graduation income.
  12. The Changing Demographics of Students: The film acknowledges the changing demographics of students, with an increasing number of older learners and non-traditional students seeking education. This shift challenges traditional notions of the “college experience” and necessitates adaptability in educational offerings.
  13. Higher Education as a Business: “Ivory Tower” underscores the transformation of higher education into a business enterprise. The film examines the consequences of this shift, including the prioritization of marketing and amenities over academic excellence.
  14. Community College as an Alternative: The documentary highlights the role of community colleges as affordable alternatives that provide practical skills and a pathway to further education. This challenges the elitist perception of higher education and advocates for a more inclusive approach.
  15. Global Perspectives on Education: Rossi widens the scope by exploring global perspectives on education. A comparative analysis of educational systems in other countries provides insights into different approaches and challenges the assumption that the American model is the gold standard.


“Ivory Tower” invites viewers to question the very foundations of higher education and prompts a critical examination of its role in society. The film skillfully combines investigative journalism with a compelling narrative, offering a balanced portrayal of the challenges and opportunities facing the academic landscape.

As we navigate the intricate web of business, politics, and societal expectations woven into the fabric of education, “Ivory Tower” serves as a catalyst for meaningful conversations. The documentary doesn’t merely present problems; it sparks a dialogue on potential solutions and alternative models, challenging us to envision a future where education is both accessible and impactful.

In a world where the value of a college degree is increasingly scrutinized, “Ivory Tower” remains a relevant and timeless piece that transcends its 2014 release date. It compels us to rethink the purpose of higher education, urging stakeholders to collaboratively shape a future where learning is not just a commodity but a transformative force for individuals and society at large.

Image Courtesy of: The Movie Database (TMDB)

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