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Donald Trump-owned Trump University may have “university” in the name, but the similarities between the program and legitimate institutions of higher education end there. Like other for-profit colleges—the University of Phoenix, Corinthian Colleges, and ITT Tech, to name just a few—Trump University routinely used predatory tactics to will thousands of dollars away from individuals seeking a better life. In exchange, students were left up to $35,000 in debt for a meaningless program from an unaccredited school.
Now, thanks to a recently unearthed trove of documents brought to light by a lawsuit against Trump University, there’s proof. Below, page by page, we use Trump University’s own documents to detail some of the program’s worst practices.
Trump University prioritized marketing over instruction:
Purposefully using language routinely employed by actual, accredited instituions of higher education, Trump University lured students toward its program. The program then created a façade of selectivity to justify its price tag: faculty members were directed to create an application page and “exclusive” acceptance materials to make the program appear prestigious.
In court-released testimonials, Trump confirmed that he promoted Trump University by promising to handpick the “professors” and “adjunct professors” who would be teaching the “courses.” As it turns out, the promised “best of the best” faculty were far from hand-picked by Trump—and even further from being any type of teaching and real estate experts. Instead, Trump University provided employees weekly cheat sheets to make them appear to be real estate experts. One court-released documented, given to Trump University sales representatives, reads: “Each week you will receive a hot-sheet that summarizes key facts from the real estate industry. Study this hot sheet…it will enhance your credibility with prospects and build your knowledge of the industry.”
In this document, Trump University provided sales representatives tips on how to get prospective buyers to part with thousands of dollars in exchange for the program.
Trump University prioritized profits over students.
In a document outlining Trump University’s methodology for 2010, the program writes: “One Company. One Culture. One Goal: Achieving Sustained Profitability in 2010.” While you’d be hard pressed to find a single reference to students’ interests among the documents, mentions of finances and how to convince prospective buyers to part with their money abound.
To sales representatives, Trump University said: “Money is never a reason for not enrolling in Trump University; if [prospective buyers] really believe in you and your product, they will find the money. You are not doing any favor by letting someone use lack of money as an excuse [sic].” Representatives were then trained on the best turns of phrase to compel people into buying the program. “Because we decide what happens in the training, an attendee must react to what we say,” a Trump University document reads. “They don’t have a choice.”
“We also have the advantage of testing the question out on hundreds of people and adjusting it to increase our chances for a desirable response. The attendee does not have the luxury of ‘practicing’ his or her answer.”
On more than one occasion, Trump University instructed sales representatives to advise individuals to use personal savings or go into credit card debt to pay for the program. The script assures prospective buyers they’ll make back their money with their new-found knowledge.
In this document snippet, Trump University provided sales representatives with trick-filled scripts to convince hesitant people to make the leap and buy the program.
Trump University left little to chance: it targeted specific prospective buyers, and compiled information on each to try and will them into buying the program.
Long before individuals attended Trump University training courses, the program’s sales representatives targeted them, and then kept notes on their credit history, personal stories, attire, facial expressions, and more to identify potential buyers and their vulnerabilities. Trump University ranked prospective buyers according to their liquidity; the more cash they had on hand, the better.
When student profiles did not provide enough information to close a sale, staff were taught a variety of tactics that could be used to identify potential buyers. They were encouraged to ask prospective buyers what they did for a living as a way to encourage them to talk about their financial assets.
To find out about potential buyers’ credit information, Trump University provided staff with “3 Key Questions To Identify Buyers” to find people who could scrounge up enough money for the program. The program was primarily concerned with credit information. Based on their credit information, Trump University could determine if prospective buyers would be able to finance the program by maxing out various credit cards—even if it meant sending the buyer deeper into debt.
In these document excerpts, Trump University created a ranking system for prospective buyers based off of their liquid assets, gave sales representatives scripts for determining buyers’ financial assets, and gave tips for gleaning personal information from prospective buyers to identify pain points.
Everyone was a potential student in Trump University’s eyes. One document for Trump University sales representatives advised: “Always assume they want to go to the workshop—because everyone does.”
More, it added: “Understand that if someone says: ‘I don’t want to go to the training,’ they are really saying: ‘I’m not used to dropping $995 on training and because it is new to me, I’m scared.’”
Because Trump University, like many for-profit colleges, prioritized its profits over its students, it now finds itself spending more time in the courtroom than the classroom.
Heard enough? Sign the petition demanding that attorneys general pay attention to for-profit universities like Trump U and asking that defrauded students get a refund.