Ivory Tower

  • Review Date: June 10, 2014
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 90 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Frank look at business of college is a must-see for teens.
  • Review Date: June 10, 2014
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 90 minutes





What parents need to know

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

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.

Not applicable

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
Not applicable

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!).

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.

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:June 13, 2014
DVD release date:September 30, 2014
Director:Andrew Rossi
Studio:Samuel Goldwyn Company
Run time:90 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:some suggestive and partying images

This review of Ivory Tower was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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