Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s challengers have called him many things; add to that list the charge from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio that Trump is a con man. Rubio's recent attacks have focused on allegations of false marketing by Trump University.
It wasn’t a real university -- and had to change its name to Trump Entrepreneur Institute because of that. It was largely a seminar program that promised to teach its students the real estate secrets that turned Trump into a billionaire. With some participants paying as much as $35,000, the project drew investigations and lawsuits in at least three states.
The university registered as a private company in New York in October 2004 and largely shut down by 2011. When NBC host Chuck Todd raised issues with the university, Trump defended the program, noting that nearly all the students thought it was "great."
"They signed these documents saying, they rated the course, 98 percent approval rating and high marks," Trump said on Meet the Press on Feb. 28, 2016. And he added, "We have an A from the Better Business Bureau."
We went to the Better Business Bureau website and saw that as of today, the Trump Entrepreneur Institute has no rating. The website explained, "This business has no rating because BBB has information indicating it is out of business."
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told us, "When the school was operational it was rated A."
We asked Hicks to document that rating and didn’t hear back.
Katherine Hutt, director of communications for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said that as a matter of policy, they don’t provide any ratings from previous years. But the organization issued a statement that "Over the years, the company’s BBB rating has fluctuated between an A+ and a D-."
We don’t know when the bureau might have given Trump University a top grade, but based on the Internet Archive, the last time the Better Business Bureau gave the university any rating at all was 2010, when it give it a D-minus. That assessment showed up in plenty of news articles.
That year, the New York Daily News reported that "the Better Business Bureau in January slapped a D-minus rating on Trump U., a rating now under review after Trump U. objected."
CBS News said the same thing in an April 21, 2010, article.
And in May, 2011, the New York Times wrote "The Better Business Bureau gave the school a D-minus for 2010, its second-lowest grade, after receiving 23 complaints."
The Washington Post had the same information in May 2011 when it reported that the New York State Attorney General was investigating the Trump Entrepreneur Institute. The Attorney General’s Office did file charges but stumbled on the grounds that the statute of limitations had passed. The matter is under appeal.
Under the new name Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, ratings ranged from C to B between 2012 and 2014. We found no ratings at all for the past two years.
Trump said about his entrepreneur institute that "we have an ‘A’ from the Better Business Bureau." Literally speaking, that is inaccurate. The Better Business Bureau gives the program no rating today because it’s no longer a going concern.
Trump University had an A at some point. The Better Business Bureau doesn't release details of its past ratings, but it did say Trump's program had ratings that ranged from A+ to D-.
What we do know, from several published reports and archived Web pages, is that the university had a D in 2010 and under its new name, had ratings ranging from C to B, with no ratings after March 2014.
Trump’s claim is literally wrong and also ignores the university’s lower Better Business Bureau scores. We rate it False.
Update: This fact-check was updated on Feb. 29 to include information from the Internet Archive and on March 3 to add information about the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.
After the Fact
Better Business Bureau says Trump U posting out of date
Added on March 4, 2016, 11:56 a.m.
Right after last night’s Republican presidential debate, the campaign of Donald Trump posted a picture on Facebook showing an A rating for the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative from the Better Business Bureau.
Today, the Better Business Bureau issued a statement to clarify that the A rating was out of date.
"The BBB Business Review of Trump Entrepreneur Initiative (formerly Trump University) has shown "No Rating" continually since September 2015. The photo tweeted out after the debate last night did not show the current BBB Business Review or the current rating."
We reached out to the Trump campaign and will update if we hear back.