Donald Trump and Higher Education

The title of this post is, of course, a misleading tease if you, the reader, are expecting some sort of summary of Donald Trump’s positions on higher-education issues. The Trump campaign’s website includes no “issues” section presenting the candidate’s positions on higher education or on anything else.

So, what is the point of this post?

Well, a recent article written by Libby Nelson for Vox reminded me of a topic now buried in one of the idea folders that I keep for my contributions to this blog. In 2013, shortly after I had begun contributing to this blog, I had come across a news item about a lawsuit that had been filed against Donald Trump for falsely representing what students enrolled in “Trump University” could expect to receive for their tuition. The phrase “Trump University” was enough provoke me into doing a Google search.

According to Libby Nelson, several class-action lawsuits are still pending against Trump related to “Trump University.” Indeed, Trump is scheduled to testify in court just four days from now, on August 10, at a hearing related to one of the lawsuits.

Nelson’s article is well written, and much of it is quotable. Here is her description of how “Trump University” functioned:

“Trump University, which launched in 2005, didn’t promise a college degree. It was a series of seminars at escalating price points that purported to teach students the secrets of successful real estate investing. The ‘university’ started with a free 90-minute seminar, continued to a three-day seminar that cost $1,495, and charged $35,000 for the “Trump Gold Elite” package, which promised personal mentorship from experienced instructors ‘handpicked by Trump.’

“At every seminar, students were told that the most valuable secrets were only available at the next, more expensive level, according to an investigation from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Students were encouraged to call their credit card companies and ask for a credit line increase, and were told it would raise their credit score. Such a request is more likely to lower your score than raise it—but the students would then be able to borrow more to pay for the most expensive programs.”

Not surprisingly, it turns out that Trump seems to have had nothing to do with the selective of the instructors who were to provide the “personal mentorship” and that many of those instructors seem to have been hired to do the presentations at the individual seminars and not for any sort of more extended employment with “Trump University.”

Schneiderman’s investigation resulted in a ruling, still being challenged in court, that “Trump University” must refund the “tuition” paid by 800 New York students.

Perhaps the least surprising thing about the whole situation is that Trump has, of course, filed a $100 million lawsuit against Schneiderman, “alleging that the attorney general offered to back off the investigation if Trump’s family would contribute to his campaign.”

By the way, it seems fairly obvious that “Trump University” was actually just a knock-off of all of the late-night infomercials hawking the millions to be made in real-estate, which were especially ubiquitous, popular, and profitable before the housing bubble burst and set in motion the economic free-fall that has become known as the Great Recession. And, actually, the way that “Trump University” operated also sounds an awful lot like what the Church of Scientology has done to generate its revenue.

But here are my two favorite details from the article.

First, “the university claims that it has a 98 percent satisfaction rate.” I am actually surprised that the claim is for less than a 99.99% satisfaction rate.

Second, “students didn’t meet Trump, but they did get the opportunity to take a photo with a life-size cardboard cutout of him.”

I just don’t know how any university on Earth could hope to beat that.


Nelson’s complete article is available at:



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