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Yalie filmmaker scrutinizes the Ivory Tower

A trillion dollars of student debt. Higher price increases for college tuition than for any other good or service. College grads moving back in with their parents for years on end, struggling to repay loans while working low-paying service jobs.

These are the backdrop for Ivory Tower, a new documentary by Andrew Rossi ’95 that asks the question: “Is college worth the cost?”

Rossi, whose last project was Page One—a documentary about the New York Times in crisis—sees the two subjects as similar.

“The idea was to find another great cultural institution that’s at a moment of crossroads and trying to address how it needs to change itself from the bottom up,” he tells Newsweek. “I think there’s a similar sense of urgency and crisis.”

The film “gets to the bottom” of skyrocketing tuition costs while also uncovering “different approaches to higher education, where experimentation is working and kids are learning—without going bankrupt,” the Washington Post says.

Rossi also examines the party-never-stops culture of some campuses, pointing out that it’s especially harmful for disadvantaged students who don’t have a cushion if their academic performance suffers.

“I think it’s important to challenge that sort of gauzy, nostalgic idea of college,” he says. (“Bright College Years,” anyone?)

Ivory Tower, for which Rossi is the director, writer and coproducer, premiered at Sundance in January and opened in theaters on June 13.


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Andrew Rossi, film, higher education


  • Paul Bass
    Paul Bass, 5:03pm June 26 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I think this will prove one of the most fascinating questions to face Yale as it evolves over the next decade -- how to keep college relevant (and affordable) as well as how to redefine how a leading university educates the world online and off. Rick Levin will play an interesting role in that discussion, too, obviously.

  • Jim Lavery
    Jim Lavery, 7:28am June 27 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    With all in costs at Ivys and other private universities now topping 60 grand a year, many deserving students are priced out. Consequently, enrollment at many state universities and community colleges is soaring. It is indeed admirable for Yale to try to be all things to all people, but I do not see a crisis leading to reinventing the university. The undergraduate, resident, Yale experience was a truly special, if not magical, time for me and many classmates. I would hope that it remains so for others. What we carry with us today is so much more than what was absorbed in the classroom. Do not discount the importance of the gauzy, nostalgic, parts of the Yale experience for those of us who lived it, then and now. Yale's mission to the rest of the world may change, but The Bright College Years will not.

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