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“Ivory Tower” provokes discussion of college costs

Friday, October 24, 2014 by Sarah Marlin

The Saratoga Film Forum presented the documentary “Ivory Tower,” on October 5, preceding a discussion with President Phillip Glotzbach of Skidmore College and President Merodie Hancock of Empire State College. Filmmaker Andrew Rossi’s film looks for an answer to the question, “is the price of college education worth it?”

Strong public interest was evident as the forum was full to the brim with people wanting to learn and express their opinions. Both presidents commented on the film’s underlying theme of “how higher education came to embrace a business model that often promotes expansion over quality of learning.”

In a room full mostly of adults, laughter roared as the phrase “party school” was used to describe some universities, and gasps were released when a student in the film said that he only spent 5 hours a week studying. The film continued to delve into unique programs such as the all male Deep Springs College, the battle over the philosophy of free education at the Cooper Union School, and the variety of online learning platforms available to students.

Moving onto the panel, the first question of the evening asked, “Why is there an increase in tuition? How can it be so high?”

“It’s an arms war,” said Hancock.

Glotzbach agreed, adding “it’s a race for better facilities”. Glotzbach also commented on the excessive regulations colleges must follow, comically saying how “the regulations stack up and beyond [his] height.”

A Saratoga Springs resident who put three kids through college chimed in and blatantly stated “I have no sympathy for someone who takes on so much debt. I can’t afford a Ferrari so I drive a Chevy. This isn’t hard math or science, it’s the parent’s and child’s responsibility.”

Merodie responded to this by pointing out how “the system prays on military personnel, first generation families…people are paying their rent with student loans.”

Shifting to state schools, Glotzbach notably stated how if “20 percent or less funding is given for state universities by the state, then these institutions are no longer state funded at all.”

Following this statement, a visibly upset audience member said, “What kind of people do we want to be? Is the support for prisons and war or for education and the needs of the people?”

“An educated population equals a better society,” Glotzbach responded.

Glotzbach also pointed out that people often forget about additional pathways bedsides college.

“There is a decrease in vocational programs but we need people to be plumbers and electricians,” said Glotzbach. “The problem with college is there is more demand than capacity but there is plenty of room in these fields.”

“Ivory Tower” also focused on online learning methods and their practicality.

“Online learning is different than an online classroom. Who takes the teacher away from someone who needs more help?” said Merodie.

Glotzbach agreed with Merodie suggesting, “Technology with higher education will only increase the costs.” According to Glotzbach, “Online learning companies like Mook are limited models and based on an antiquated concept of a professor who lectures. An increase in quality learning is seen when students are actively engaged. A clip of a teacher talking isn’t interacting directly with students at all.”

As residents became more engaged with the conversations one asked, “If Germany can provide a free education then why can’t America?” To this Merodie explained that “while it may be offered for free, free is lectures and exams, it’s an entirely different model. Our country created the liberal arts college.”

“The levels of economic quality is stagnant, we should be an engine to help the lowest economically,” said Glotzbach. He ended with this sentiment, “the scope of this national problem is profound and it will only grow.”

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