“Ivory Tower” by Andrew Rossi proved to be an eye opener illustrating the truth that many students choose to hide from and universities prefer to hide. Rossi presents many interesting facts to show the state of colleges as a business and the direction in which higher education is headed. But the film wasn’t all dark and gloom, Rossi also displayed hope and ways to help a struggling college student combat crippling student debt.
When college is observed from a business standpoint, its almost impossible to not see it as a perfect business. College, higher education, is something that all Americans are taught to need from pre-k. For some reason, all the “best” outposts of education seem to cost the most. One can’t help but wonder why as Rossi did. Are colleges really charging for their quality education or for the attractive amenities they have made available on campus. Rossi demonstrates that the colleges follow a chain reaction where one college has a rock climbing wall or a big hot tub to attract students followed by many other colleges in order to feed in to the “student is a the customer” mentality. Is the student attending college or paying for a country club membership? Wesleyan University President Michael Roth states ”You give momentum to ”The student is the customer” when you charge them so much money” in the film. Rossi goes on to further show that these amenities are being used to attract out of state students who have doubled in the past 20 years whom the charge astronomically more.
Another topic Rossi tackles in his documentary is the notion of free education. In the beginning, Rossi speaks of Harvard, one of the most expensive and lucrative universities in America being part of the 1.25% colleges in the nation that offer need-based full tuition scholarships. A middle class student would pay less at Harvard than a public university. On the flip side, there is the financial issues of cooper union college where for the first time in a 150 year, the college will charge tuition. Peter Cooper believed in enhancing the abilities of youth and giving them a fighting chance out there without having to suffer from debt that they could not possibly pay. In order to insure his vision, he left endowments to the university such as property at the base of the Chrysler building according to the documentary. Now, enter president Jamshed Bharucha, the first man to change tradition and start a riot in the halls of Cooper Union. He elected to take a sizable loan in order to revamp the college portions of which he chose to invest in hedge funds. Money was all lost with the crash of the market leaving Cooper Union in millions of dollars of debt prompting them to charge their students tuition. When Bharucha was questioned about his $750,000 salary and free home in contrasts to Harvard president Drew Faust’s $899,734, he replied “She doesn’t have a fraction of the problem we have, not a fraction of the problems we have.”. Faust manages 12,000 faculty, 21,000 students and more than $30 billion endowment according to the documentary. “Apparently we are the Harvard of Astor place” replied Cooper Union Professor Peter Buckley sarcastically.
I was appalled by the tactics that universities deploy to leech money from college students who simply don’t have any. An average student graduates with $25k in student debt and then there are students such as Stephanie Gray who accumulated $140k student debt attempting to secure her master degree. The degree with which, she can not secure herself a job. No one should have to survive the hardship of complete college education just to find themselves in a hopeless situation. A situation in which they are too fearful to start a family, get a house, a car, to venture out in to the world as an educated adult, all because they had to pay for college amenities instead of the information they need to survive.
The main contemporary problem that Andrew Rossi diagnoses with his documentary is that college may not be worth it anymore. Students are being asked to pay too much and not getting the results they need post graduation. Graduates are unable to pay off their debt due to their inability to secure a job that pays high enough for them to pay off debt. Debt that is far higher than their initial loan as it balloons up to uncontrolled numbers leaving nothing but hopelessness and despair. Its not all bad though, the young black male who rose from gang violence and made his family proud by graduating from Harvard University shows that there is hope out there. Rossi ends the documentary with a link for students to follow in order to help them combat student debt and whatever else they may need as a ray of hope.