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Monday, 15 September 2014

Trumped-up credentials

Trump gives for-profit education an even worse rap

Leave it to American real-estate mogul Donald Trump to give the for-profit education industry an even worse rap than it already has. Schools looking to make a buck have come under scrutiny recently for taking students’ money but providing lackluster job results. New York State’s $40 million lawsuit over Trump’s foray into the industry underscores the need for these institutions to make credentials clear.

It’s hard to take anything The Donald does seriously. Although he started off as a genuine businessman several decades ago, he has since used his gilded empire to spawn a reality-TV career and even a much-derided presidential run. You can now sip from gold-accented Trump champagne flutes, even douse yourself with his “Success” cologne.

Given Trump’s financial achievements, and his lack of modesty, it is no surprise he opened a school to pass on the secrets of his success. Though Trump University seemed a dubious enterprise out of the gate, its legitimacy is now formally in question thanks to the lawsuit brought this week by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. He alleges that the billionaire made false claims about the school’s classes and instructors.

While it’s hard to sympathize with the 5,000 pupils foolish enough to pay for Trump’s insights, the suit gives the broader for-profit college industry another black eye. Just last Friday, a day after unveiling a new plan to slow growth in college tuition, President Barack Obama made disparaging comments about for-profit schools. He complained that some are notorious for making big bucks but failing to prepare students for jobs.

In theory, schools can make a profit and prepare students for the workforce simultaneously – particularly when high-priced university degrees provide few practical skills. The trick is distinguishing the educators from the fraudsters. To that end, a ranking system like the one Obama proposed is a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, here’s a hint to prospective pupils: if a school is named after a guy better known for firing people on television than closing deals, it’s best to steer clear.

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New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a $40 million lawsuit on Aug. 25 against real estate mogul Donald Trump and his for-profit investment school. The suit alleges that they are engaging in illegal business practices. In particular, Schneiderman says they’re making false claims about the school’s classes and that Trump handpicked its instructors.

U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled a proposal on Aug. 22 to cut college costs and student loans. The cornerstone of the plan would establish government college rankings, which would be used by the government in determining federal student aid, with larger grants going to students at better-scoring schools. Prospective students could also use the rankings to compare institutions.

In a town hall discussion at Binghamton University on Aug. 23, the president complained that some for-profit institutions are “notorious for getting students in, getting a bunch of grant money, having those students take out a lot of loans, making big profits, but having really low graduation rates.” Moreover, those students aren’t well prepared for a particular field, he said.

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