Politics

The Donald Trump Scandal Nobody Is Talking About

Real-estate and reality TV mogul Donald Trump has drawn criticism for his outrageous statements about immigration as well as Sen. John McCain's war record. But the conduct of Trump's for-profit college, Trump University, is an overlooked scandal.

In August, 2013, New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the he was filing a lawsuit against Trump for the dubious promises of Trump University. Schneiderman's lawsuit alleged that the school's real estate program, which was unlicensed as an actual university, was complicit in "persistent fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct" towards its students, who were often saddled with debt from expensive seminars in lieu of brimming with the promised insider secrets from "Donald Trump's handpicked instructor[s]," most of whom turned out to have emerged from real estate-derived bankruptcy, or have little background in real estate at all.  

Schneiderman claimed that more than 5,000 people paid around $40 million to Trump U, a quarter of which was funneled directly into Trump's pockets, going against claims that Trump U was founded "solely for philanthropic purposes"––Trump netted around $5 million in profit, according to the suit. Many of the allegations read like a pyramid scheme pamphlet, such as the multiple claims that Trump himself would make an appearance ("'he is going to be in town' or 'often drops by' and 'might show up' or had just left," the suit reads), and student evaluations required for getting a certificate that "'pleaded for a favorable rating so that 'Mr. Trump would invite [them] back to do other retreats." On top of Schneiderman's case, a class-action lawsuit in California was filed against the university, which now lists itself as the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative

Trump himself pushed back hard against the allegations, calling Schneiderman a publicity seeking "lightweight" with "gross incompetence," and filed ethics complaints against him, according to reports at the time. 

What the Trump University scandal says about Trump the candidate isn't necessarily obvious or clear––many candidates often have blighted pasts. But it should also be considered instructive when it comes to how Trump might look at some of the most important issues for young voters––particularly student debt. In that realm, anyone with a mind to run a de facto for-profit college would be a tough sell for debt-saddled millennials.

ATTN: has reported extensively on the troubling practices of many for-profit universities, the majority of which get their revenue from federal student loans and grants, despite having lackluster graduation rates and skyrocketing default rates. Last fall, comedian John Oliver called for-profit colleges and their business model "a first-class education in[to] the depths of human depravity."

If the connection seems tenuous, look to a recent answer to a question on mounting education costs Trump gave in April at Simpson College in Iowa. When asked his thoughts on making higher education affordable, Trump launched into a garrulous discussion about how jobs were being sucked by China and Mexico––"Mexico is the new China"––and that students saddled with high levels of debt are emerging into a jobless market. We need a strong leader, he said, to bring back those jobs in order for college students to pay off their loans, all but sidestepping the prohibitive tuitions many consider the root cause. Job availability for recent graduates is certainly a factor for students worried about paying off student debts, but Trump's approach, characteristically, seems out of touch.