According to a recent Forbes.com article, Donald Trump has an empire worth an astounding $3 billion. (The Donald, of course, has disputed this fact saying, "I’m worth $7 billion.")
Four billion dollars notwithstanding, Donald Trump has continued his quest for world domination by venturing into the world of education. Yes, you read right. Donald Trump’s aptly named Trump University has been open since 2005. Surprised? Most people in the career college industry are relatively unaware there’s a new player in town.
And, while Trump U doesn’t exactly compete with the Vatterotts and DeVrys of the world, it’s certainly making a name for itself. A well-known name at that. Oh, and don’t call it a career college either – it’s an "entrepreneurial college." In survey after survey, Trump is regarded as the second-most admired entrepreneur in the country … second only to some guy named Bill Gates.
Recently, Career College Central sat down with Trump U’s President Michael Sexton and peppered him with a barrage of questions. Undaunted, Sexton fired back with some candid, honest answers.
CCC: How did this all come about?
MS: People across the country know Donald Trump as a real estate guy. The Apprentice really repositioned him as an entrepreneur. And he increasingly began to see himself as an educator. I think it’s an amazing testament that Donald Trump shows up somewhere to give a speech, and 20 thousand people show up. I don’t know if it was a surprise to Donald Trump, but I think it really opened his eyes to the power of people wanting to understand more about what his philosophies are … and what his approach is in building businesses – how to make them great –
and his approaches to branding. So he started thinking about it: "Hey, I have got a role as an educator. A lot of people want to hear what I have to say." With the power of Internet and e-learning, you can either seat 20 thousand people at a time or you can reach 20 million or 200 million at a time by giving them the same great content with the promise of the Internet.
CCC: So is Trump University all online?
MS: No, not at all. We started online because we thought it was a good way to do experiential learning in a distance format, but we learned pretty quickly that not everyone wanted to learn online. We had originally started out with some home-study products but quickly had to grow the business in the direction of live events because there were a lot of people out there that still want to do it the old-fashioned way. And we still want to meet that demand and to go for three days of intense training. That has been a big part of the business.
CCC: Yours truly just got back from a big education conference where very few people had heard of Trump University. Are you a hidden gem or on the cusp of going big?
MS: We thought there was a huge imbalance between supply and demand. What we found is when people hear the Trump brand and how it applies to education, they want to figure out how to be an entrepreneur, they want to figure out how to be a real estate investor, how to make money. So we don’t compete with trade schools of the world. Our audience is quite different. It’s people who aren’t looking to go back to school to get a diploma or some sort of credential they are going to put on a wall to get a better job. That is a very worthwhile path and very traditional. Our audience is quite different. They are entrepreneurs by nature. They want to go the other direction. They want to fire the boss. In this country, especially now, I think there is so much instability. The stock market is very volatile. The real estate market is very volatile. People do not have faith that the government is going to support them in their retirement. We attract people who want to better themselves. Everyone wants to better themselves in the abstract. But the people we attract are very successful with us. Those people take it to the next level. They go out and take action and not just dream about it. It’s for people who want to apply it to the real world and achieve results. That’s the biggest distinction.
CCC: Who is – or is there – a typical student at Trump U?
MS: It is all kinds. I go out to our events, and there are doctors that are skeptical of the stock market. They want to invest in real estate, commercial real estate. They want to open a building they are in. I should own a building. You got a lot of people who are looking to transition out of the traditional work environment. They want to work for themselves, take control of their lives. The common denominator is they are high achievers who are driven by the idea of more control, freedom and flexibility. And they come from different paths. We did a demographic survey: High income, high traditional education – very high – but they are at a point in their lives where they want to take it the next level, and the only way they are going to do that is to empower themselves.
CCC: Let me play dumb consumer for a minute. Tell me about Trump U’s curricula. How did it come about?
MS: We think our target is small business owners and individuals who want to improve themselves through education. People who want to enhance their own success or the success of their business. So we put together a marketing curriculum, a negotiation curriculum. Mr. Trump has been very instrumental … he’s got a real passion for education. He has some very unique and compelling ideas about how to teach people. We found very quickly that people were interested much more in real estate and entrepreneurship. And they were interested in marketing to some extent because those were things they perceived would drive revenue in their business or ways they could drive wealth into their own lives. We really want to be very customer-driven. We are here to serve the market.
We are going to meet those needs, and that’s what has really helped drive our curriculum as it evolves. We are always asking, what do you want to learn? What do you have a passion to learn? We look at that, and we say, "Does this fit strategically with where we’re going, and do we have the expertise?" Most of the time it does – so we’ll go out and develop that course. We continue to evolve. We continue to evolve very aggressively.
CCC: Do tell … who is your competition?
MS: I think we have tapped into a under-served market. I think our main competition … Listen, we did a survey earlier on with our audience, and we said, "Where do you get business education, continuing education today?" Sixty percent was the Barnes & Noble business section. I found that a little discouraging because I find that while books are effective, books aren’t always the best way to learn.
CCC: What’s the word on the street? What are your students saying?
MS: When you talk to students, what you realize is that there is so much frustration out there. One of the biggest motivations for an individual is to see other individuals just like them – achieving. But people need to understand that they can do it. That’s why we spend time getting testimonials from people that look like you, act like you, are from the same background. Because the reality is when you sit down and talk to people, they are doing well, but they want to do better. Everyone is telling them they can’t do it.
CCC: That’s similar to how it is in a career college.
MS: People are always telling them no, right? You aren’t smart enough. You don’t have enough time. You don’t have enough money or skills. But what you realize, and the best stories we get are from people that have been thinking about doing this for years and years. And they finally do it, and Trump University helped push them. Once they do it they realize, man, it’s not that hard.
CCC: Say I call – I ring Trump U to enroll. What happens?
MS: Our goal is to make people successful. What we try to screen for is that gene that people have that will allow them to actually go out and act on what they learn. What we really screen for is: look, are you really going to do this? Again, we want to be judged not by how many students we have, not by how much money we make, but really by what our students have done out there in the real world. What they have achieved and learned from us. I think that is a big part where traditional education falls short. You go take the course and you are kind of on your own at that point. What do you do? And that’s why for us, any program you enroll in here, it’s not just a three-day intensive training. We give you a year. It’s always a year because we know you aren’t going to become an expert in three days. That’s why we are here for 12 months to help answer questions and provide advice and guidance through hotlines, and that’s very important.
We are dealing with higher individuals who they want to go out there and achieve. We want to connect with the student. Once they roll up their sleeves and apply themselves, we are going to stick with them. We really want to do everything we can do to optimize their success.
CCC: Clearly, you’re well on your way to getting your name out there.
MS: We are at the beginning. Like you said, we are at the cusp of it. We are. We get lots and lots of visitors, but 95 percent get here by entering Trump University in a search engine, so they are finding us – we are not finding them. Plus, this year we are doing a much better marketing campaign to get the brand out.