Real-estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump is no stranger to the spotlight — but he can’t be reveling in the attention he’s receiving now. On August 24, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, a for-profit school run by Trump, claiming that it tricked students into paying thousands of dollars for courses that failed to provide promised instruction on real-estate business techniques. If these allegations are true, it’s a warning that at least some of what purports to be nontraditional for-profit education can be an old-fashioned rip-off.
Schneiderman maintains that the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative — known until a couple of years ago as Trump University — told prospective students all the instructors were “hand-picked” by the mogul himself. But in fact, the lawsuit asserts, Trump wasn’t involved with hiring teachers; the institution vetted them poorly, and even hired some who’d previously filed for bankruptcy related to their own real-estate dealings. Furthermore, the suit alleges that the school used a free 90-minute seminar to sucker customers into ever-pricier additional courses, topping off with a $35,000 mentorship program that failed to provide many students with the one-on-one instruction they were promised.
Similar allegations have been made about other for-profit education companies — in fact, the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative came to Schneiderman’s attention as part of an investigation into for-profit education in 2011. The Trump school claims that 98 percent of students in the program rated the services they received as excellent (though there’s some question whether students were pressured to give good reviews).
It isn’t inherently bad that some institutions try to turn a profit while still educating their students. But there’s no room in higher education for people who mislead their students. Authorities are right to scrutinize dubious schools, even if they are run by well-known television personalities.