October 30, 2018

Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual presents a screening of Fail State, a documentary on the for-profit college industry

The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts at Princeton University will screen the documentary film Fail State on Wednesday, November 7 at 7:00 p.m. The screening of the film, an expansive and incisive look at the for-profit college industry, will be followed by a panel discussion led by the film’s director Alex Shebanow. The screening and panel will take place in the newly renovated James Stewart Film Theater at 185 Nassau Street on the University campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Executive produced by news legend Dan Rather, Fail State investigates the for-profit college industry and the decades-long reports of student loan abuse within the sector. The filmmakers’ central thesis: aided by a cabal of politicians, nationwide disinvestment in public colleges and universities, and an unscrupulous desire to maximize profits at all costs, for-profit colleges have exploited millions of low-income and minority students leaving them with worthless degrees and drowning in student loan debt. With echoes of the subprime mortgage crisis, Shebanow traces the rise of the for-profit college industry in American higher education and uncovers a story that the Los Angeles Times calls, “truly eye-opening and crucial.”

kaplan university

A branch of Kaplan University, one of the for-profit colleges investigated in the documentary film Fail State. Photo courtesy of director Alex Shebanow

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Shebanow; Senior Investigative Reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education Michael Vasquez, who was interviewed in the film; The Century Foundation fellow Yan Cao; and New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Matthew Reed, Vice President for Learning at Brookdale Community College and writer of the column “Confessions of a Community College Dean” for Inside Higher Ed.

Fail State had its world premiere in October 2017 at the Austin Film Festival, won the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at the Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, and received the Jury Prize for Best Historical Feature Documentary at the San Antonio Film Festival. The film had its Los Angeles theatrical release on October 19 and will screen in New York City and San Francisco on November 9, after which the film will be available on iTunes, Amazon, and YouTube, and, starting December 17, will broadcast and stream through Starz.

Fail State is the second in a four-film series that celebrates the reopening of the James Stewart Film Theater following a five-month renovation. The changes include upgraded film projection capabilities with state-of-the-art digital projectors while preserving capability for 32 mm and 16 mm film, as well as a new screen, HVAC and electrical systems, new seating and interior finishes.

All films in the series are open to the public and will take place in the James Stewart Film Theater. The remaining screenings in the series are:

  • Leave No Trace with writer-director Debra Granik followed by a Q&A on Wednesday, November 14
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post with writer-director Desiree Akhavan followed by a Q&A on Wednesday, November 28

The film screening series is supported through the John Sacret Young ’69 Lecture Series fund. Sacret Young is a 1969 graduate of Princeton and an author, producer, director, and screenwriter. He has been nominated for seven Emmy Awards and seven Writers Guild of America (WGA) Awards, winning two WGA Awards.  He is perhaps best known for co-creating, along with William F. Broyles Jr., China Beach, the critically acclaimed ABC-TV drama series about medics and nurses during the Vietnam War, and for his work on the television drama The West Wing. Young has also received a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award, and his original mini-series about the Gulf War, Thanks of a Grateful Nation, was honored with his fifth Humanitas Prize nomination.

For more information on the Program in Visual Arts and the more than 100 performances, exhibitions, readings, screenings, concerts and lectures presented each year by the Lewis Center for the Arts, most of them free, visit

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Steve Runk
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