Ivory Tower – A CNN Documentary

On Thursday, November 20th, 2014, CNN will debut Ivory Tower, a scathing look at higher education in the U.S., what’s going wrong, and how people are trying to fix it. It will air at 9:00 pm and 11 pm Eastern (6pm and 8pm PST).

Ivory Tower was directed and produced by Emmy-nominated filmmakers Andrew Rossi and Kate Novack. It examines the rising costs of higher education and dares to ask a very controversial, yet immensely important question: “Is college really worth it?”

Student loan debt - a screenshot from CNN's Ivory Tower (2014)

Student loan debt – a screenshot from CNN’s Ivory Tower (2014)

Every parent, teacher, professor, high school student, and college student should watch this film. The cost of education has risen exponentially, and now shackles millions of students with crippling debt. Student loans are the only loans that no longer receive the protection of our bankruptcy system. The inability to discharge the student debt was a reaction to the massive number of college students who began to file for bankruptcy proceedings during the 1970s. Unfortunately, the banks and the government  were reactionary in their response, and made a horrific decision by no longer extending bankruptcy protection to valid scholastic candidates.

Student loans have gone crazy. A screenshot from CNN's Ivory Tower

Student loans have gone crazy. A screenshot from CNN’s Ivory Tower

Let’s take a look at some of the issues compounding this situation:

There is an assumption that everyone’s goal should be to go to college, but some people are suited to a different path. People should be encouraged to follow the path that is best suited to them. For some, that means college, for others a trade school makes more sense.

Parents have to take responsibility with some of the choices they are making with their kids.  Going through community college to complete General Education courses, makes much more sense, than sending a kid to college at $25,000 – 50,000 a year for that beginning base set of classes.  $50,000 to $100,000 for general education classes? Really? That makes absolutely no sense.  At many of the Universities, you don’t even get to begin study within your major until your Junior year. Common sense would dictate that a community college makes economic sense for the first two years, followed by 2-2-1/2 years at a university, thereby reducing costs by perhaps 40-45%.  Their degree is still going to show Stanford or Sarah Lawrence, but financially you will all be much happier.

There has to be a basic cost analysis done on some majors.  If you plan on studying underwater basket-weaving (my father’s phrase), are you going to be able to pay off loans at an Ivy League school? Probably not.  Use some common sense.

Lifetime earnings screenshot from CNN's Ivory Tower

Lifetime earnings screenshot from CNN’s Ivory Tower

Does dropping out of college completely make sense?  Not necessarily.  There is a direct correlation between having a B.A./B.S. and your earning potential. The median lifetime earnings of a high school dropout is $973,000, while college graduates (B.A. or B.S.)  make more than $2.2 million on average over the same period.

So what about those famous drop-outs, who have made it big?  Well, they were part of a rarified breed from the start.  Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College, and Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard.  All three of these individuals were brilliant in their own right, and therefore they had a much better than average chance of succeeding than the average student.  These are not average students, and should not be used as “average” examples.  They aren’t average.  In the language of startups, they are unicorns: rare and amazing; and so is their ability to succeed on their own.

Famous dropouts from CNN's Ivory Tower documentary

Famous dropouts from CNN’s Ivory Tower documentary

However, the explosion in the cost of education is not just an issue of rises costs in academic instruction. There is a very dangerous game going on (actually more than one, but let’s take one at a time). In California, it’s a game as deadly as the sub-prime mortgages and one that is likely to have similar repercussions. Some individuals discovered that they could raise money for campus building funds, and the mechanism behind those funds is part of the cause of the disaster that’s taking place in California’s education system. (It took a real estate guru to explain this one to me. It’s not in the documentary.)

CSUF recreation center on campus cost $40.6 Million! - screenshot from CNN's Ivory Tower.

CSUF recreation center on campus cost $40.6 Million! – screenshot from CNN’s Ivory Tower.

The schools raise building funds by showing how much money they are making on student tuition. They leverage the tuition into guarantees for loans, which they then receive to build huge buildings on campus (which consequentially makes some construction companies extremely wealthy). To build more buildings, they have to show more revenue from tuition, so, they raise the student tuition costs. Up goes the tuition; here come the loans, and the new construction on campus.

At the community college near me, they have been on a building binge for the past decade. They’ve built some great buildings, but a large percentage of the classrooms have been empty, because the schools are prohibited from using the funds raised for teacher’s salaries. It is only for building. So, we have buildings, and yet, we still have impacted campuses with too many students per class, which they then use as justification to raise the tuition, which is then leveraged for more construction. Get the picture, yet?

We have to put an end to this house of cards. It is a faulty scheme that is destined to collapse.

Another thing that must be stopped is the unreasonable compensation that is being given to top-level administrators at our public or publicly supported colleges and Universities. You will see some disgusting examples in CNN’s Ivory Tower. The worst is the current president of Cooper Union College. (I would have to research the situation to make an informed recommendation, however, from what is shown in Ivory Tower, I would say that the college should rent out large portions of the new building to correct their financial problem, or sell the building, if that is what it takes to get the college back to its core mandate.) Like many college and university presidents and chancellors, his yearly compensation is completely nuts! But he is not alone. Look at the salary taken by Zimmer at the University of Chicago: $3.3 million dollars annually! Shame on the Board of Trustees that allowed THAT to go through!

A screenshot of Robert Zimmer from CNN's Ivory Tower.

A screenshot of Robert Zimmer from CNN’s Ivory Tower.

With regards to public colleges and universities, I don’t think anyone’s compensation should exceed that of the President of the United States. He is paid $400,000 a year. I guarantee that you can find some brilliant individuals who will be happy to run the institutions for that yearly salary, and they will probably do a much better job than those that are receiving windfalls at the expense of the students, their parents, and the taxpayers. If the college or university is a private institution, and they do not receive funding from the government, then they can spend their money any way they choose. If, however, it is a public institution, then why are we allowing administrators to bleed out the revenue meant to fund education? It’s time to say no!

Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts is saying just that. To quote Network, a satirical film from 1976, we should all be saying, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”  She is leading the charge for student loan reform, and bringing sanity back to the education complex in America.  According to Senator Warren, the government is going to make $184 Billion in profits on student loans over the next ten years.  Yes, Billions with a capital B.   If the government is making that much, image what their banking partners are making!  Mad yet?  Good.  Take action.  Right this minute you can sign a petition to reform student loans at takepart. Do it now, you won’t lose your place in this article.

Gap year at Uncollege - a screenshot from CNN's Ivory Tower

Gap year at Uncollege – a screenshot from CNN’s Ivory Tower

So, what are the solutions?  There are all sorts of alternatives appearing and being tested with students around the world. A lot of them are originating in the startup world. Udacity, Edx, Coursera, and more have stepped in to fill the gap. Then there are movements such as the Uncollege, which encourages students to put a gap year (a year off from college) to good use to figure out what they want to do, and the Thiel Foundation, which encourages students to drop out of college and start businesses, with support from the startup community and $100,000 “scholarships.”

A revolution has begun.  Our education system must be changed, and brought back to a sane foundation and structure, before we end up with another debacle that will rival the subprime mortgage disaster.  Watch CNN’s Ivory Tower. Get mad. Get involved. Spread the word.  Spread the screenshots from our article on this important documentary. Don’t let the “corrupt few” destroy the American education system. Speaak up. Make a difference.

Reminder: On Thursday, November 20th, 2014, CNN will debut Ivory Tower. It will air at 9:00 pm and 11 pm Eastern (6pm and 8pm PST).  Ivory Tower is also available on iTunes.

Stanford is one of the University's leading the charge in education reform.  Screenshot from CNN's Ivory Tower (2014)

Stanford is one of the University’s leading the charge in education reform. Screenshot from CNN’s Ivory Tower (2014)

Resource links for CNN’s Ivory Tower

Citation styles

MLA style
Cynthia Kirkeby, “Ivory Tower – A CNN Documentary.” Point Of View Reviews- Movie reviews by DW Kirkeby, and more, from ClassBrain's Movies in the Classroom. 13 November 2014, 21:06 UTC. . 27 Feb 2017 <http://pointofviewreviews.com/ivory-tower-a-cnn-documentary/>.
The Chicago Manual of Style
Cynthia Kirkeby, “Ivory Tower – A CNN Documentary.” Point Of View Reviews- Movie reviews by DW Kirkeby, and more, from ClassBrain's Movies in the Classroom, http://pointofviewreviews.com/ivory-tower-a-cnn-documentary/ [accessed February 27, 2017].

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Site last updated February 27, 2017 @ 2:33 am; This content last updated November 13, 2014 @ 2:46 pm

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