Trump gives for-profit education an even worse rap

August 26, 2013

By Daniel Indiviglio
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

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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