7 higher education films you might add to your watch list

Documentaries cover first-generation students, affordability, college behind bars, free speech and the practices of for-profit institutions.
By: | December 10, 2019
A screen grab from "Personal Statement," a documentary that tells the story of three high school seniors in Brooklyn, New York, who, while trying to graduate themselves, also serve as college counselors for their classmates.

A series of documentaries have cast the spotlight on several areas of higher ed over the past year.

“A Walk in My Shoes,” produced by the Kansas State University College of Education, chronicles the experiences of first-generation college students across the country.

This documentary, which can be viewed on YouTube, follows eight first-generation college students, five preservice teachers and three professional educators who are committed to changing lives.


More from UB: 15 ideas for ensuring first-generation college student success


Looking into K-12, “Personal Statement” highlights the lives of three high school seniors in Brooklyn, New York, who, while trying to graduate themselves, also serve as college counselors for their classmates.

The trio’s focus is on helping others overcome the hurdles that can prevent low-income students from attending college.

The documentary “Unlikely” examines the economic impact of the rising costs of higher education through the stories of five college students from different backgrounds and different parts of the country.

The film features higher ed leaders such as Nancy Cantor, Michael Crow and Freeman Hrabowski, and experts such as Sara Goldrick-Rab and Bridget Burns.

“Same God,” tells the story of Larycia Hawkins, a political science professor at Wheaton College, who in 2015 posted a photo of herself in a hijab on Facebook to support Muslims.

Hawkins was suspended a few days later and administrators moved to terminate her tenure. The documentary airs on Dec. 13 on PBS.

“College Behind Bars” follows a group of men and women incarcerated in New York state prisons as they attempt to earn college degrees through the Bard Prison Initiative.

The four-part documentary considers transformative power of higher education and asks whether the U.S. prison system is providing  meaningful rehabilitation for people behind bars.


More from UB: How to raise the quality of prison education programs


The film, which was directed and produced by Lynn Novick and executive producer by renowned filmmaker Ken Burns, can be streamed at PBS.org.

The film on this list that has been given wide release in theaters is “No Safe Spaces,” featuring conservative radio host Dennis Prager and comedian Adam Corolla.

By its own admission on its website, this documentary aims to assess the state of free speech on campus through the lens of speakers being shouted down by students and the trigger warnings issued by “liberal professors.”


More from UB: States taking action in campus free speech battles


Finally, “Fail State”, executive produced by former network news anchor Dan Rather, examines the government policies and financial motives that have enabled the for-profit college industry to operate.

The film scrutinizes the loans made to students, many of whom are low-income, and the value of the degrees awarded by for-profit institutions.