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Education Innovation
Is Trump U an Argument Against Higher Ed Reform?

Donald Trump is starting to face scrutiny from his rivals and the press for his ownership of “Trump University”—a for-profit company offering classes in real estate and finance that was, by all accounts, a successful fleecing operation that preyed upon the very working class Americans he is now courting politically. But no sooner had these attacks started than some liberal commentators began to denounce them as hypocritical, on the grounds that Republicans have supported higher education reforms that would allegedly make such frauds easier to perpetrate. Here’s Andrew Joyce, making this point at Fusion:

Sen. Marco Rubio landed a devastating attack against Donald Trump at the Republican debate Thursday night when he brought up a class-action lawsuit against “Trump University,” which New York authorities say was more of a fraudulent scheme than an actual university.

… You might think that Rubio wants to crack down on schools like Trump University, but you’d be wrong. He wants a lot more of them. One of the key provisions in Rubio’s education plan is a proposal to lower accreditation standards to let more schools compete for students. As he described the plan in July, “Our higher education system is controlled by what amounts to a cartel of existing colleges and universities, which use their power over the accreditation process to block innovative, low-cost competitors from entering the market. Within my first 100 days, I will bust this cartel by establishing a new accreditation process that welcomes low-cost, innovative providers.”

It’s possible to imagine “Trump U!” becoming a rallying cry for opponents of higher education reform efforts in the months and years ahead. Indeed, it could end up being quite a potent one, given that the argument contains a kernel of truth: tough accreditation standards, after all, did (and should!) act as a bulwark against Trump-style schemes. (Trump U failed to receive accreditation, and therefore failed to qualify for federal student loans; instead it pushed enrollees to pay for classes with credit card debt, according to the lawsuit filed by former students.) Accreditation is clearly important, and pointing out that what we have now is not working well does not imply that one wants to completely get rid of it. (Note that even in the quote above, Senator Rubio is not calling for the outright abolition of accreditation.)

In fact, there’s little reason to assume that a more flexible accreditation process—one that devolves power to state and local bodies—would be any less competent at screening out Trump-style scams than the existing, federally approved accreditation network. A good system would ensure that all providers are still monitored, with information about their performance made public so that the prospective students know what they would be getting by signing up.

A smart system would go beyond mere accreditation, however. Ignorant and inexperienced people make easy marks for predators, so requiring students to complete a course in personal finance before taking out loans seems like a sensible idea. Furthermore, all educational institutions should have skin in the game. If their students can’t repay loans, the institution should lose money. This would create a strong incentive for universities to recruit well-prepared students and provide them with better guidance about the various programs and options they offer. (Trump University, in contrast, appears to have wildly inflated expectations in hopes of running away with money the students didn’t have and could never earn back.)

Indeed, when defenders of the higher education status quo focus on institutions like Trump University, they are in some ways missing the forest for the trees. Donald Trump’s scam operation vividly highlights the perils of educational institutions that don’t give students any return on their investment. But America’s higher education system is saturated with such institutions already. The federal government has not only accredited and subsidized its share of fly-by-night for-profit educational programs; it also rubber stamps programs in non-profit schools that leave large numbers of students with few skills, few job prospects, and mounds of debt. There is rot and inefficiency pervading our entire system; reforming higher education regulations (including credentialing requirements) and reining in student loans are important steps toward rebalancing a sector that has gotten deeply out of whack.

As student loan debt piles up, even as the quality of the workforce stagnates, it’s increasingly clear that something has to give. The Trump University scandal is a reminder that deregulation shouldn’t be reckless. But it is in no way an argument against fixing a comprehensively broken system.

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  • WigWag

    Speaking of Trump, anyone who wants to see what a total jackass American Interest blogger, Eliot Cohen is, should read this letter that Cohen spearheaded.

    Take a look at the letters signatories. It’s a who’s who of the bipartisan foreign policy elites who are destroying our country.

    These elites could hardly have damaged our nation more if they were actual traitors instead of being what they really are; narcissistic, vainglorious morons.

    We can only hope that if Trump is actually elected, that this group will reap the reward they so justly deserve; professional oblivion.

    • Anthony

      Thanks for both link and signatories.

      • WigWag

        Thanks for the link; I read it. It’s no wonder that the neoconservatives hate Trump; he’s following in their footsteps. It’s easy to forget that the GOP wasn’t always the neoconservative bastion that it is now. In the aftermath of the Reagan Adminstration, the neoconservatives mounted a hostile takeover of the GOP just like Trump is doing now. Prior to that takeover, the GOP was owned by realists like James Baker, Richard Lugar and Brent Scowcroft. Of course that crew was as disgusting as the neoconservatives who replaced them.

        The neoconservatives are horrified that Trump is on the verge of doing to them exactly what they did to their GOP realist predecessors.

        The most interesting part of the Politico article was the suggestion that a number of prominent neoconservatives would actively support Clinton over Trump. Democrats would be wise to reflect on what this suggests about Clinton’s foreign policy predilections. The simple reality is that Democratic liberal internationalists and GOP neoconservatives are two sides of the same coin. They are both equally complicit in ruining our country.

        If they’re not stopped we will end up with tens of thousands of additional dead working class soldiers killed in meaningless wars we never win, and we will end up with a white working class that morphs into an underclass with all the incurable social pathologies that go along with it.

        That’s why Trump, even with all the unknowns, is the best bet America can make.

        • Anthony

          You’re welcome.

          Now, your brief on Trump replicating on “Neocons” what they performed on James Baker and “realists” in Republican party foreign policy at national level is fair comparison, all things considered.

          Beyond that and given Mrs. Clinton’s Hawkish instincts (liberal internationalism, nee Arthur M, Schlesinger Jr.) as known by crowd you reference, her support by Kaplan and others comes as no surprise presented binary choice discussed.

          Fundamentally, your sentiments echo a failure by what you define as an American Elite (ruling class) component to reaffirm the Judeo-Christian Civilization – connecting ends and means. That is, what is America about?

          Finally, the class comparison of both black and white Americans are not as simply analogized but I recognize your inference of accompanied demoralization; yet the origins and implications, as you well know, tie too many cultural, institutional, and economic cross-currents.

          As an aside WigWag, I came across an interesting word today (Tzedek) that applies to all the forgoing.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Great link….better commentary (on your part)…

      • WigWag

        Thank you for the kind words. On another matter, if those medical articles I linked to the other day interest you at all, let me know by responding to one of my comments. I am happy to provide any clarification or answer any question that I can.



    • Jim__L

      … Did you mispost this comment?

    • Kevin

      Just because the current elite are corrupt incompetents doesn’t mean Trump is the answer…

      • WigWag

        We have two choices; the bipartisan elite who are destroying our country or Donald Trump who may or may not be better. Given what we know about Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, I’ll take my chances with Trump.

        But people should vote for whomever floats their boats.

  • Pait

    The problem of programs that leave students with mountains of debt and no useful skills is overwhelmingly concentrated in for-profit schools. There is a smaller number of expensive not-for-profits that can be an inefficient match to many students – not the famous high quality programs, but some less prestigious but not so cheaper one. State schools and community colleges tend to be relatively inexpensive, well matched to student needs, and altogether a good value.

    Using the case of fly-by-night for profits as an argument, or excuse, to overhaul the bigger and better functioning parts of the higher educational system, is indeed hypocritical and disingenuous.

    • seattleoutcast

      This argument is one the left always pushes, but it is wrong. I know many young people with mountains of debt that have gone to public schools. And the debt only grows when you go beyond an undergraduate degree. If you’ve been paying attention to WRM, you’ll see he’s posted about law school graduates being in debt.

      I find the sheer hypocrisy of the leftist universities staggering and completely comparable to Trump U. These liberal universities mandate group thinking on social justice, only to fleece the very kids they’re indoctrinating. I guess college professors are more equal than the students?

      • Pait

        You reduce everything to your preconceived ideas of what is right and what is left. The fact that you consider a certain organization “liberal”, or “left”, has no impact on the merits of the product they offer. Your statements are non sequiturs.

        • Fat_Man

          He is right.

          • Pait

            You mean, he’s right in reducing everything that he declares as “left” to bad? I suppose it is a method.

            A method to make a country into Syria or Venezuela, I mean. If you just get whoever disagrees to reduce everything they declare as “right” to bad, then we get straight into a civil war.

          • Fat_Man

            I meant to say that he is correct.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The first thing we should be doing is never allowing federal loan or grant money into for-profit education—-at any level. As for Trump University, Mr. Trump apparently has a unique talent for sucking in people who are old enough to know better. This is a characteristic of Trump University, of the once-upon-a-time Atlantic City casinos, of The Apprentice on TV, and now a bunch of gibberish rallies in a presidential campaign. It’s arguable that Donald’s magnet is not substantially different from a well-delivered pitch for you to join Amway.

    • Kevin

      I’d much rather see the rule be that when a student defaults on the loan the institution they attended be on the hook for it.

      However, the big issue behind both your and my proposals is the distributional consequences of them. The loans (at high risk of default) overwhelmingly go to to poorly prepared students who come from racial minorities and lower income backgrounds. The same is true of the clientele of for profit schools. Are you willing to see these populations cut off from educational opportunities? Some of these students do find these programs a way up, even if many do not and the cost/successful student is very high. We should not pretend that there will be no costs to cleaning up this corrupt swamp.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I have a hard time understanding why the community colleges are not better choices for anyone than are High-Tech, Brown-Mackie, National American University, Corinthian and others. There is no reason at all to shut racial minorities and lower-income-background people out—-AND—-there is no reason to have them used for profiteering.

  • Fat_Man

    What is the difference between Trump U, and a major in Queer Liberation Studies?

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