"The concept of the institute of higher learning is about to be broken."
That's a bold claim made by one of the interviewees of "Ivory Tower," the new documentary by writer-director Andrew Rossi ("Page One: Inside the New York Times"). And, if the trailer for the film is any indication, it's one that can be backed up with some rather shocking facts.
The term "ivory tower" originated in the Biblical Song of Solomon (7:4), but by the 19th century it was a derogatory term for academic elitism, a world where intellectuals engage in over-specialized research often completely disconnected from the practical concerns of everyday life.
There's one huge practical everyday concern that academia has created in recent years, though: the astonishing price tag that comes with being a student at one of these institutions.
"Ivory Tower" portrays colleges and universities as organizations akin to Hollywood studios — large businesses engaged in "a feeding frenzy to outbuild the rivals." The documentary presents research that reveals the nation's combined student loan debt is now at $1 trillion (a number that even Disney can only dream of), with the government making "$184 billion off our kids trying to get an education."
According to NerdWallet.com, the average U.S. household has a student loan debt of over $33,000, which is more than double the average credit card debt. "It's like a subprime mortgage broker that ripped you off," says another interviewee in the film, and when college tuition has "increased more than any other good or service in the entire U.S. economy," action must be taken.
Some organizations are challenging the very concept of going to college, such as the Thiel Fellowship, which is offering students $100,000 to drop out of school and start their own business. And U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts addressed the issue on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" earlier this week, criticizing how the government makes "tens of billions of dollars" via the interest rates of student loans — a practice she called "obscene" and plans on counter-attacking by refinancing those loans and cutting down the interest rates via a proposed bill next month.
"Ivory Tower" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and will hit theaters in June.