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Cost Of College Debated At Jacob Burns In Pleasantville

Lara Rossi, Thomas Schwarz and Jon Strauss discuss whether the cost of college is worth it.
Lara Rossi, Thomas Schwarz and Jon Strauss discuss whether the cost of college is worth it. Photo Credit: Sam Barron

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Is a college education worth it? The Hartsdale-based Westchester Community Foundation held a discussion on the issue at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville.

The Westchester Community Foundation hosted a screening of the documentary "Ivory Tower," which explores the growing cost of student tuition and student debt in America. Student debt recently totaled $1 trillion. 

The film spotlighted the trend of online classes, how state funding for public schools has decreased and Cooper Union, a New York City-based school that recently began charging tuition for the first time in its history.

After the film, a discussion was held with Jon Strauss, president of Manhattanville College in Purchase and Thomas Schwarz, president of Purchase College-SUNY.

Strauss said he didn't believe the current model of secondary education was failing. When it came to Cooper Union, he said no college is truly free.

"There is always someone who pays," Strauss said. "As a society, we step up and pay the cost."

The documentary focused on the student occupation of the president's office at Cooper Union after tuition was announced, a move of which Strauss was critical.

"I love their passion, but I don't respect their integrity," Strauss said.

Schwarz said he believed college was worth it and offered the best potential return on investment.

"It's not just about getting a job," Schwarz said. "Going to college makes a lot of sense."

There is a major difference between a high school education and a college education, Schwarz said.

"You are $500,000 ahead if you get a college education, factoring in tuition," Schwarz said.

The $1 trillion debt number doesn't show the true value of a college education, he said. 

"I don't think the world is ending," Schwarz said. "What would happen if we didn't have education?"

Schwarz said the movie was too one-sided against college education and did not bring up how many students go into debt or default because of unethical for-profit loan agencies.

"They need to be put out of the business," Schwarz said.

Strauss said scenes of students drinking do not reflect most students' behavior.

"Most of the students are not that extreme," Strauss said. "They engage in learning, have a wonderful experience and are prepared for future careers."

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