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Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 28, 2016

Fact-checking Donald Trump's claims about Trump University

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."

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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.

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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.

Our ruling

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.

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"We (Trump University) have an ‘A’ from the Better Business Bureau."
In an interview with NBC's Meet the Press
Sunday, February 28, 2016

Our Sources

NBC News, Meet the Press, Feb. 28, 2016

Better Business Bureau, The Trump Entrepreneur Institute, accessed Feb. 28, 2016

New York Daily News, Trump U. hit by complaints from those who paid up to 30G, and say they got very little in return, May 30, 2010

CBS News, Is Trump University Flunking Out?, April 21, 2010

98 Percent Approval website

New York Times, New York Attorney General Is Investigating Trump’s For-Profit School,May 19, 2011

Washington Post, Donald Trump’s for-profit school under investigation, May 20, 2011

Huffington Post, Trump's 'University' Accused Of Scamming Customers, July 6, 2011

New York State Office of the Attorney General, A.G. Schneiderman Sues Donald Trump, Trump University & Michael Sexton For Defrauding Consumers Out Of $40 Million With Sham "University", Aug. 25, 2013

Supreme Court of the State of New York, People vs. Trump, Aug. 26,2013

Robbins Geller Rudman and Dowd, Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd Files Consumer Class Action against Trump University, April 30, 2010

Slate, The Apprentices, Sept. 20, 2015

New York Times, Trump University’s Checkered Past Haunting Candidate, Feb.26, 2016

Email interview, Hope Hicks,spokeswoman, Trump for President, Feb. 28, 2016

Interview,Katherine Hutt, communications director, Council of Better Business Bureaus, Feb. 28, 2016

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