Michael Newman is a documentary filmmaker whose current project is entitled “The Elephant on Campus“.  My interview with Michael follows.

KCH: Let’s begin with the film’s synopsis.

MN: It’s a work-in-progress feature documentary about the need for higher education reform in America. The story will follow me on my journey to expose the problems plaguing higher education in this country while I also search for solutions to reform this broken system. For most people college has become overpriced, overrated, and outdated. Contrary to popular belief college is no longer the sacred cow it used to be. The ivory tower that once loomed high above our nation is crumbling and the sooner people realize this the better our country will be for future generations to come.

KCH: What do you hope viewers will take away from it?

MN: I hope it will create awareness in people and help inspire real reform. I hope it can be educational and prevent others from falling into the trap that I fell into by believing the myth that college is the only path to success. This was true 20 years ago, but in today’s economy, college is no guarantee of future success. Young people need to realize that going to college might not be their golden ticket to a better life. There’s a really good chance that they’ll leave college with a worthless education and an insurmountable mountain of student loan debt. Total student loan debt is expected to surpass $1 trillion by the end of this year, so this is a very grim reality for millions of former students. It is estimated that over 18 million people with college degrees are stuck working low-paying jobs that don’t require a degree. I also want to show people that there are better options at becoming educated and finding a career that fits them.

KCH: From where does your interest in this subject come? Is the subject of higher ed reform personal for you?

MN: This subject is very personal for me. The movie was inspired by my own college experience. I went to college to improve my chances for success in the real world, but instead it did the exact opposite. All I got in return was a futile education, a worthless piece of paper, and a big pile of student loan debt. I come from a blue-collar middle-class family and for people like me college has become largely unaffordable. Going into debt is almost always not worth the trouble. If my public k-12 education would’ve done a better job at helping me discover my creative talents and inform me of other options besides college, then I wouldn’t be stuck in this unfortunate position of being a debt slave. College was without a doubt the worst investment I ever made. I hope by making this movie it will help me overcome this burden and break free from the shackles of this debt.

KCH: You’re crowd-sourcing the funding for your film. Is this an approach that has worked for film-makers in the past?

MN: Yes, it has worked for a lot of filmmakers over the last few years. However, it has become apparent that it’s probably not going to work for me on this project. This is because of a variety of reasons both tangible and intangible. The most clear reason is because I don’t have a team of people helping me that are well-connected in the social media universe. I thought the subject matter alone would attract enough interest, but clearly I was wrong. It takes a team with a strong social media presence and know-how in order to make crowdfunding successful. It’s going to take a miracle for me to reach my goal. I knew I was setting the bar really high, but then again I’m not afraid to fail. I’ll just pick myself up and keep on going until I find the proper funding to finish this movie. If that doesn’t happen, then I’ll complete the movie on a shoestring budget.


  1. It is the nature of all bold ideas to be overstated. In the case of this particular idea, it can be summarized as College: Good for some, bad for most. I think we need to nuance that a bit. College is indeed good for some – the teachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, social workers, and other professionals who truly need that kind of education. It’s bad, possibly, for the many who are not in a mindset for academic study. But the term “college” itself can mean many things. What about a polytechnic school in which students study electronics, computing science, car mechanics and so on along with some academic subjects like English and Math? Is that bad? Or is it not truly “college” in the meaning attributed to it by its critics. Maybe we need to get away from the “College is Bad for You,” rhetoric and start talking about the multiplicity of types of education needed in today’s economy. I certainly don’t want to see a movement that calls for no education/training after high school. Very few people can advance in our society without something to show that they have the ability to do the work to which they aspire.


  2. Well put, William. There seems to be a great deal of interest in this notion that college has little value. It is my hope that the film – once complete – offers a thoughtful and nuanced understanding of the role of formal higher education. Other examples of this idea that college can be skipped can be found here . . .
    Will dropouts save America? (New York Times)
    Peter Thiel’s initiative


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