Ivory Tower

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Ivory Tower Movie Poster Image
Frank look at business of college is a must-see for teens.
  • PG-13
  • 2014
  • 90 minutes

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

As the price of college increases, a growing number of people are questioning whether the cost is worth it. There are valid reasons on both sides of this complicated question.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The students interviewed here represent a diverse mix of socioeconomic classes, and they offer compelling thoughts on why people should, or shouldn't, consider college.


Student protestors take over a building, forcing a heated confrontation with security guards.


One person uses the word "s--t" a few times during an interview.


Many well-known colleges are (not surprisingly, given the topic) mentioned by name and discussed extensively, including Harvard, Cooper Union, Wesleyan, and Stanford. The film also mentions some popular online learning sites, including Coursera.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Ivory Tower is a well-made documentary that examines the rising cost of college and the growing debate over whether it's worth the hefty price of admission. Mixing interviews featuring students, professors, and administrators with information found through data mining, the film reveals the business side of higher education and posits that customers -- students -- may not be getting what they need. There's one brief scene with swearing ("s--t"); otherwise, the movie is completely appropriate for teens and up and should probably be mandatory viewing for high school students considering college (and their parents, too!).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

IVORY TOWER goes beyond fancy brochures, dorm tours, and lecture hall visits to dig into the business of running a university, explaining the pursuit of impressive facilities to better compete with other institutions and attract the most talented faculty and the brightest students. All of that costs money, of course, and the documentary makes the case over and over that the price of a college education has risen faster than just about anything else in the U.S. economy. But is it worth it?

Is it any good?

Ivory Tower doesn't feel like your run-of-the-mill lecture: It's insightful, illuminating, and -- frankly -- distressing. (Just wait till you see the statistics.) Though it's pretty straightforward filmmaking (no surprises here), it will leave audiences wondering about the priorities of school officials, the future of education, and the financial burden placed on the next generation.

It does suffer a bit from lack of coherence, feeling a bit like several mini-documentaries stitched together. There's one segment on a student occupation at Cooper Union in New York, another on the emergence of online learning, another on student loan debt spiraling out of control, and more. They all paint a fairly bleak picture of higher learning, and it's clear the filmmakers have done their homework. But what's the solution? Is there one, even a kernel? (Besides Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs?) Fascinating data will fascinate, but without vision, you may be left feeling a bit down and directionless. Still, this should be required viewing for anyone considering college.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about education. Do you think college is necessary today? Is it worth the cost?

  • What do you think will be the future of education? Will online courses ever replace real classes?

  • Is Ivory Tower objective? Does it have to be? Is it OK for documentaries to take an opinion on the subject they're covering?

Movie details

  • In theaters: June 13, 2014
  • On DVD or streaming: September 30, 2014
  • Director: Andrew Rossi
  • Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Company
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Run time: 90 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG-13
  • MPAA explanation: some suggestive and partying images
  • Last updated: March 13, 2020

Our editors recommend

For kids who love documentaries

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate