Newly disclosed records in an ongoing lawsuit against Trump University reveal some striking similarities between the company and another controversial for-profit: Corinthian Colleges.
Former students of Donald Trump’s university are suing the enterprise for bilking them out of thousands of dollars with advertisements they say were misleading, promising a path to riches using the mogul’s real estate investing techniques. Records made public Tuesday show that internal company manuals, called “playbooks,” encouraged staff to use the struggles of potential clients to close sales. The guide gave the example of a potentially solid target as “a single parent of three children that may need money for food.”
It also implored staff to pepper prospective students with questions such as: “Do you like living paycheck to paycheck? … Do you enjoy seeing everyone else but yourself in their dream houses and driving their dream cars with huge checking accounts? Those people saw an opportunity, and didn’t make excuses, like what you’re doing now.”
Exploiting desperation is the same kind of strategy employed by Corinthian, the defunct for-profit chain that operated Everest, WyoTech and Heald Colleges. An investigation by California Attorney General Kamala Harris uncovered a Corinthian marketing plan targeting single mothers, veterans and people with low incomes. The company went so far as to say its ideal students were “isolated, impatient people with low self-esteem and few people in their lives who care about them, and who are stuck and unable to see and plan well for their future.”
Corinthian lured students with promises of jobs that it failed to deliver, charging tens of thousands of dollars for degrees that many say are worthless. Along the same lines, former Trump students claim that in some cases they paid upward of $34,000 for seminars assuring success in real estate that never materialized.
Trump University is facing a $40 million lawsuit from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for deceptive marketing, including touting the mogul’s involvement in hand-picking instructors and claiming consumers would receive access to private sources of financing. Corinthian, meanwhile, ran afoul of federal regulators for falsely advertising job placement rates and career services that it couldn’t deliver. Allegations that the company lied about the success of its programs ultimately led to the loss of its access to federal funding and its bankruptcy last year.
Trump University was never licensed as a school nor sanctioned to receive federal financial aid like Corinthian, but both institutions made millions of dollars off of people believing that education would be their key to upward mobility. Before it shut down in 2010, Trump University pulled in an estimated $40 million from about 7,000 students, an amount that is dwarfed by the billions in taxpayer dollars that the Department of Education funneled to Corinthian in the form of federal loans and Pell grants.
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