If you’re like many voters, you view a presidential candidate’s education like a potential employer scanning a job applicant’s resume. The names of the fancy prep schools and famous universities might sound interesting, but previous positions held and career highlights might seem like better indicators of how well he or she is likely to do governing the nation. Although the minimum age requirement to hold the office of President of the United States is 35, the average age of accession is closer to 55. Consequently, even presidential contenders holding advanced degrees have left their college days in the distant past. In the case of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, he began school in the 1950’s and completed his formal education when he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1968 — nearly half a century ago.
Why a Candidate’s Schools Matter
Arguably, nothing speaks to a presidential candidate’s temperament, intelligence, and ambition like examining his or her work history. But reviewing a candidate’s primary, secondary and in many cases, tertiary education can provide valuable insight into the nominee’s intelligence and the evolution of his or her thought processes. Educational background can factor into their views on:
- The economy
- Private vs. public education
- Traditionally conservative and liberal ideologies
In the case of Donald Trump, several anecdotes from his school years demonstrate some of the characteristics for which he’s now known: tenacity, drive, and perseverance. An examination of his education history, however useful, still leaves gaps in the information.
Mr. Trump’s Early Education at Kew-Forest (1950 – 1959)
Born in 1946 in Queens, New York, Donald Trump was the fourth of Frederick C. Trump’s and Mary MacLeod Trump’s five children. “Donnie,” as he was referred to in his formative years, was enrolled in the Kew-Forest School, where his father served on the governing board. Kew-Forest was established in 1918 as a private pre-kindergarten through grade 12 preparatory school serving the Queens communities of Kew Gardens and Forest Hills. Trump attended the school from kindergarten to seventh grade, but in 1959, was transferred to the New York Military Academy when his parents developed concerns about his behavior.
Although difficult to approximate the exact costs while Donald Trump was attending the school in the fifties, current tuitions at Kew-Forest currently range from $27,735 – $35,195 for kindergarten to eighth grade — a range that would indicate that Kew-Forest was outside the reach of families of moderate means. As a well-established real estate developer and multi-millionaire, Fred Trump could easily afford the expense.
It was during this period when Trump began demonstrating the behavior traits that prompted his parents to transfer him to a military school. In a recent Washington Post article, Ann Trees, one of Trump’s childhood teachers (now retired) was quoted as saying, “Who could forget him? He was headstrong and determined. He would sit with his arms folded with this look on his face — I use the word surly — almost daring you to say one thing or another that wouldn’t settle with him.”
The reason for Trump’s move to a military boarding school isn’t entirely clear, but it seems to be linked to behavioral tendencies.
Trump in Military School (1959 – 1964)
Founded in 1889, the New York Military Academy, where Donald Trump attended from eighth grade until he completed high school, is a boarding school located at Cornwall-On-Hudson in upstate New York — approximately an hour north of the Trump family home in New York City. As one might expect at a private military institution, part of the aim of the curriculum is to instill discipline in the students.
At the age of 13, Donald Trump was forced to surrender the comforts of a privileged lifestyle — a 23-room house in Jamaica Estates with a chauffeur and live-in cook — and join the rank and file of the student cadets at NYMA. Routine chores like shining shoes and making beds became exercises in discipline, and Donald had some difficulties adapting to the rigors of military school life. But after an adjustment period, his performance began to improve, and he moved up the internal rank structure.
During his senior year, Trump was promoted to the rank of captain, which entailed maintaining the discipline of the students in his charge. After a short time, he was transferred to an administrative position. The transfer also involved a move from the barracks housing to the administrative dorms. Trump has suggested that this was a more prestigious position and a reward for good performance.
Playing in multiple sports, Trump was respected at NYMA for his athletic prowess — particularly in baseball. Trump refused to allow the Academy to release his academic records to the Washington Post for a story, and the transcripts don’t appear to be available from any other source. Trump has described the time he spent in the military academy in favorable terms. ““I was a wise guy, and they wanted to get me in line. Thinking back, it was a very positive influence.” While having never served in the military, Donald Trump has suggested that being a military school cadet has helped to prepare him to assume the position of Commander in Chief.
Fordham University – The Beginning of College (1964 – 1966)
Now, eighteen years old, Donald Trump began attending classes at Fordham University in the Bronx. Fordham is a Jesuit Catholic university founded in 1841. Its Catholic origins are notable in that religious doctrine is typically incorporated into the otherwise secular curriculum of Jesuit institutions. Because a candidate’s position on issues like abortion, LGBT rights, prayer in schools, and capital punishment are often the result of exposure to various religious doctrines, Trump’s time at Fordham is of particular interest. Although Trump was raised as a Presbyterian and still claims that religious affiliation, Fordham is open to students of all faiths. There is no indication, however, that Donald Trump was influenced in any way by Fordham’s ecclesiastical leanings.
There is otherwise little information about the two years that Donald Trump attended Fordham University. Trump has never released his college transcripts. Fordham is currently ranked #66 on the U.S. News & World Report National University Rankings List.
The Wharton School of Business – University of Pennsylvania (1966 – 1968)
Referring to his transfer to the University of Pennsylvania in his book “The Art of the Deal,” Trump wrote, “”I decided that as long as I had to be in college, I might as well test myself against the best.”
The University of Pennsylvania was established in 1740 in Philadelphia, PA and is one of the eight Ivy League schools. It’s currently #9 on the U.S. News & World Report National Universities Rankings and is a perennial top 10 institution. In contrast to Mr. Trump’s silence about his time at Fordham University, he’s been much more vocal about his attendance at the Wharton School of Business, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics.
Notwithstanding the merits of a Fordham University education, the reputation of the Wharton School as a premier business college was already established in 1966. For an ambitious student like Trump, the prestige of an Ivy League degree would certainly have its appeal.
As is the case with other periods of his education, Donald Trump’s academic performance at Wharton is unclear. There’s little information about any clubs, fraternal organizations, political associations, or groups that Trump may have belonged to while in attendance. His transcripts haven’t been released, and his class ranking is unknown. In two separate articles about the Trump family in the 1970s, the New York Times mentioned Donald graduating first in his class at the Wharton School of Business. It should be noted that while undergraduate program at the Wharton School of Business is considered to be top tier.
Trump’s son Donald Jr. and his daughter Ivanka have both attended Wharton. His other daughter Tiffany recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania College of Arts and Sciences.
Vietnam Draft Deferments
Most men graduating in college in 1968 were subject to the Selective Service draft that occurred the following year in 1969. While Donald Trump did register for Selective Service at age 18, he’d received four education deferments while he attended Fordham and the University of Pennsylvania. His fifth deferment was due to a medical condition affecting his heels. Still, Trump was subject to participation in the draft lottery in December, 1969. Trump often credits a high draft number for keeping him out of Vietnam, but the medical deferment would have made his participation in the draft lottery irrelevant.
Questions Behind Trump University
In operation from 2005 to 2010, Trump University was founded by the presidential candidate as a for-profit education center that specialized in teaching “the art of the deal” to students looking to make their fortune through real estate investment. Although, Trump never attended classes at the institution bearing his name, we believe it’s relevant in a comprehensive discussion about Donald Trump’s education background. Trump University, in spite of its name, was not an accredited university or college, and students did not receive diplomas degrees.
The business was incorporated in 2004, when co-founder Michael Sexton approached Trump and offered a flat fee for the use of his name. Trump declined, instead assuming a role as a co-founder. The University’s claim was that it could teach students to be real estate investors. This came at a time of unprecedented price increases in U.S. real estate and many investors were making significant profits buying and selling property during the upward trend.
Initial seminars were offered free of charge, but many attendees have come forward stating the focus of the free sessions was to have them enroll into premium programs costing up to $35,000. In 2010, the New York Education Department warned Trump University that its use of the word “university” in its name violated the state’s education laws. In 2010, former TU students in New York, California and Florida joined a class action lawsuit against Trump University. Trump himself was named as a defendant in the action. In 2013, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a second lawsuit against Donald Trump and key members of Trump University, which had shut down by that time. Among the complaints are:
- Donald Trump didn’t personally attend seminars
- Donald Trump claims to have handpicked the instructors, but didn’t
- Free seminars were recruiting sessions for expensive premium packages
- Students experienced “hard sell” pressure tactics to enroll in more expensive programs
- The curriculum didn’t deliver the quality of education that was promised
Trump has defended the merits of Trump University, claiming, “students who participated in Trump University were provided a substantive, valuable education based upon a curriculum developed by professors from Northwestern University, Columbia Business School, Stanford University and other respected institutions.”
A Summary of Donald Trump’s Education
Donald Trump never attended a public primary or secondary school. With no recorded honors or distinctions, his college years, while notable in their prodigiousness, are also slightly obscure. Trump supporters point to his record as a successful business man as proof of his qualifications to lead the country. And while this argument may resonate with many voters, the inability to review a complete academic profile on the presidential hopeful may adversely influence his ability to garner support with professionals, academics, and other groups that are likely to emphasize the importance of education.
We believe that all of a candidate’s academic experiences and viewpoints on education will affect the way that learning institutions are able to provide services for our students. Without more information from the candidate — the Trump-Pence website lacks any mention of an education platform — it’s difficult to predict how a Trump presidency would impact the students, schools, and colleges throughout the country.