A breathtaking documentary was released in June of 2014 that is a MUST to see.. Ivory Tower presents a compelling case for how student loan debt (which exceeded the one trillion dollar level, passing credit card debt) is spiraling out of control at a rate that is simply not sustainable. Ivory Tower shows how colleges have abandoned the fundamental mission to educate students and how they have become big businesses intent on paying football coaches and administrators outrageous salaries while they engage in an arms race for facilities at the expense of producing quality critical thinkers who are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.

I will say that Andrew Rossi does a masterful job of highlighting just how far adrift college has sailed from its original mission. He also presents a compelling case for how college/university is not adjusting to the online world and the ease of access to information that exists today.

You may recall Rossi’s brilliant documentary, Page One, which blew the lid off of the problems the New York Times was headed for if they didn’t completely revamp their business model. Many experts credit Rossi as being the impetus behind the New York Times successful and profitable foray into the online world, taking them from near extinction to a model of a how a newspaper can reposition itself in the market place. Page One won the critics award for the best documentary in 2011 as well as several Emmy’s. Well, this time Rossi is taking on an even bigger fish: the entire American college system and the spiraling debt that is inexcusable and unsustainable.

Rossi cannot be accused of some vindictive motives because the most elite colleges denied him. Rossi graduated from New York City’s prestigious all boys, Collegiate High School.  In 1995 he graduated magna cum laude from Yale.   When Rossi was at Yale he served as the editor in chief of the Yale Literary Magazine. Three years later he graduated from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology

Rossi is challenging universities to embrace technology, generate hybrid educational models and get their “cost disease” (a term Rossi frequently uses when interviewed) under control. One thing I like about Rossi’s charge is that he doesn’t exempt students for their culpability in the problem. He talks about how students have so embraced crass consumerism that they almost have a cruise mentality; they clamor for entertainment and every creature comfort imaginable that the two sides (student and colleges) are both driving each other off the cliff with the exorbitant expenses that come with all of these creature comforts.

I agree with the overwhelming majority of Rossi’s points. I do think he undervalues liberal arts courses and the role they play to develop thinkers and communicators, but he has a balanced view of MOOCs (see Game Changer’s workbook for more on MOOC’s) and that is nice to see.

I appreciate that Rossi does not let the State’s off of the hook. He draws attention to how they have become less vested in intellectual curiosity and providing access to quality education. I do think one valid criticism of the documentary is his omission of the for profit colleges in the documentary but it is hard to find fault with Rossi’s attempt to shake up a an entire system (from Federal to state dollars, from college money to pubic consumerism) that is just not a sustainable model for the future. I also like how Rossi ends Ivory Tower with a call for student activism. Do yourself a favor and go see Ivory Tower.