Donald Trump’s Defense of ‘University’ Relies on Shaky Math

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Republican front-runner Donald Trump is once again arguing that students at his defunct Trump University had a “98 percent” approval rating, but that number would’t pass muster in a freshman statistics course.

Faced with attacks from TV ads as well as former GOP nominee Mitt Romney over the classes, Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday that students of his real estate program were satisfied, despite an ongoing legal battle.

“They’re spending now $100 million on negative, phony ads on Trump University which, by the way, has at 98 percent approval rating by the students that took the course—98 percent,” he told host Joe Scarborough. “That’s why I won’t settle the case.”

But as Steven Brill wrote in TIME in November, those numbers don’t add up. In a sworn deposition, director of operations Mark Covais conceded that nearly a third of students who took three-day seminars from Trump’s instructors demanded and received refunds before Trump University changed its policy.

Trump and his people have pushed the 98% narrative so aggressively that they established a website for it,, where the surveys are posted. But even a quick review reveals multiple questionnaires filled out by people who attended free sessions.

The more apparent inconsistency is that Covais–seeking to demonstrate that Trump University had an accommodating refund policy–declared that the company had issued 2,144 refunds to 6,698 attendees of the $1,495 three-day program, or 32%. That a third of the customers demanded refunds is hard to reconcile with a claimed 98% satisfaction rate, especially since the mass of plaintiffs now suing claimed that they, too, wanted refunds but were, they claimed, told they could not get them because they did not ask for them within 72 hours of the first day of participating in a program. Similarly, the refund rate for the $34,995 program, which according to the lawsuits was tougher on giving money back, was 16%. If at least 31% of one group and 16% of the other were so instantly dissatisfied that they immediately demanded refunds, how could 98% have been satisfied?

In a separate case, a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected a line of argument from Trump’s lawyer that a disgruntled student had once praised the program. Explicitly comparing Trump University to the kind of Ponzi scheme run by Bernie Madoff, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote that “victims of con artists often sing the praises of their victimizers until the moment they realize they have been fleeced.”

In a speech Thursday morning, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney explicitly attacked Trump University.

“His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University,” he said. “He’s playing the American public for suckers: He gets a free ride to the White House and all we get is a lousy hat.”

Republican critics of Trump are hoping to turn the program’s fate into further attacks against Trump. Ads released by the American Future Fund, a nonprofit that backed Romney in the 2012 campaign, feature former Trump University students. A separate ad from Our Principles PAC, a super PAC backed by the family that owns the Chicago Cubs, also criticizes the program.

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