The Clinton University Problem: Laureate Education Lawsuits Present Problem For Clintons [Updated]

225px-Laureate_International_Universities_Logo220px-Clinton_and_jiangWhile largely ignored by the media, the Clintons have their own university scandal. Donald Trump has been rightfully criticized and sued over his defunct Trump University. There is ample support for claiming that the Trump University was fraudulent in its advertisements and operations. However, the national media has been accused of again sidestepping a scandal involving the Clintons that involves the same type of fraud allegations. The scandal involves a dubious Laureate Education for-profit online college (Walden) and entails many of the common elements with other Clinton scandals: huge sums given to the Clintons and questions of conflicts with Hillary Clinton during her time as Secretary of State. There are distinctions to draw between the two stories, but the virtual radio silence on the Clinton/Laureate story is surprising. [I have updated the original column with some additional thoughts, links, and clarifications for readers].

I have long been a critic of many online courses, though I am increasingly in the minority even on my faculty. However, the rise of online courses has allowed for an increase in dubious pitches and practices that prey upon people who cannot afford or attend a traditional academic institution.  I should also reveal a general opposition to for-profit universities, a view shared by many teachers and experts.  While there are some good for-profit programs from student camps to specialized training courses, Laureate is a massive, mega-corporation that is often criticized for its impact on education.  As companies maximize profits, students often become a mere cost of doing business.  The rate of default has been higher at such for-profit universities and less than half of students at for-profit schools actually finish such programs accordingly to Brookings.  Laureate is often cited as the leader in reducing education to a commodity in a mass for-profit enterprise.  The company has made huge profits and is worth over $4 billion.

Laureate Education was sued over its Walden University Online offering, which some alleged worked like a scam designed to bilk students of tens of thousands of dollars for degrees. Students alleged that they were repeatedly delayed and given added costs as they tried to secure degrees, leaving them deeply in debt.  Laureate itself has been criticized for “turbocharging” admissions while allowing standards to fall and shortchanging education.

The respected Inside Higher Education reported that Laureate Education paid Bill Clinton an obscene $16.5 million between 2010 and 2014 to serve as an honorary chancellor for Laureate International Universities.  Various news outlets said that neither Clinton nor Laureate were forthcoming on how much he was paid for the controversial association.

Bill Clinton worked as the “honorary chancellor” which sounds a bit like the group’s pitchman. He gave speeches in various countries and was heavily touted by the for-profit company to attract students.  The size of this payment (which has been widely reported) raises obvious concerns as to what the company was seeking to achieve and whether Laureate received any benefit from the association with the State Department given its massive international operations.

Various sites have reported that the State Department funneled $55 million in grants during Hillary Clinton’s tenure to groups associated with Laureate’s founder.  That would seem a pretty major story but virtually no mainstream media outlet has reported it while running hundreds of stories on the Trump University scandal.  The stories on the grants do not name Laureate directly.  Accordingly, the company might have not received direct grants (my first column did not make that clear and, in fairness to Laureate, there is no evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement or even direct grants).  However, there are references to the International Youth Federation (connected to Laureate chairman Douglas Becker) as receiving USAID funding.  Becker, who reportedly did not graduate college, is a controversial figure and the Washington Post wrote that “Becker’s peers in the education industry paint him as a tireless promoter, skilled at pitching Laureate to investors and persuading universities to sell to him.”  Becker is reportedly a major donor to the Clintons and the Clinton Foundation.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Laureate was able to “skirt” regulations on reporting “gainful employment” due to its large number of schools and students outside of the country who do not receive federal aid.  The Journal noted “[o]nly 31% of students who enroll at another Laureate school, Santa Fe University of Art and Design, graduate. After 10 years, a mere 58% earn more than Americans with a high school diploma.”

Clinton resigned from his post just before his wife declared her candidacy but praised the company for producing high quality education.  Yet, MarketWatch reported “five out of its six U.S. campuses are on a list of 544 schools the Department of Education is monitoring over concerns about shaky finances or regulatory compliance.”

Indeed, Laureate has come up in the Clinton email scandal.  In her first year as Secretary of State, Clinton is quoted as directly asking that Laureate be included in a high-profile policy dinner — just months before the lucrative contract was given to Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton later references “Laureate Universities, started by Doug Becker who Bill likes a lot.”

Of course, there is a good reason why Clinton would ask for a more inclusive listing since “It’s a for-profit model that should be represented.”  Even though most teachers (including the unions supporting Clinton) tend to be opposed to such for-profit companies, there is no denying that this model is on the rise.  Later, Clinton called for a crackdown on for-profit companies but was criticized for the former association with Laureate.

There was even a class action — like the Trump University scandal. Travis et al v. Walden University LLC, was filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Maryland but dismissed in 2015. It is not clear why it was dismissed. However, the size of the contract to Clinton, the grants from State and the complaints over alleged fraud should warrant a modicum of attention to the controversy. The controversy has many of the familiar complaints over fraudulent online programs that take advantage of hard working people.

As an academic, I find both Trump University and Laureate to be deeply troubling stories. Yet, only one has been pursued by the media to any significant degree. I am not suggesting that Laureate as a whole is fraudulent.  It clearly is a large for-profit educational company that has far more to show for its work than Trump University.  Indeed, this is a huge global company with tremendous financial assets and profits.   Moreover, there are distinctions that can be drawn with a university like Trump that is based entirely on the presumptive nominee and his promises in advertising. However, the money given to the Clintons, the involvement of the State Department, and the claims of fraud make this an obviously significant story in my view.  The ridiculous amount of money given to Clinton alone raises legitimate questions.  This is a company that was expanding exponentially in foreign countries. The association with Clinton was obviously greatly desired by the company.  The question is whether the association with the Clintons resulted in any favorable treatment for the company or its affiliates.

Update:  Walden University President Jonathan Kaplan was kind enough to respond to my query for a comment to this story.  He maintains that Walden has been misrepresented in terms of its program and success with students.  He noted:

Walden University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and was founded in 1970.  We are committed to delivering quality degree programs and to focusing on student outcomes. More than 80% of our students are enrolled in masters or doctoral programs. Walden has programmatic and professional accreditations in key areas serving the public good such as social work, teacher education, mental health counseling, nursing, and more.

Walden University takes its financial aid responsibilities very seriously and has worked hard over many years to be good stewards of federal financial aid. This is demonstrated by our three-year cohort default rate of 6.8%, which is well below the national average of 11.8%, including all nonprofit and for-profit institutions.

Additionally, we have achieved a rigorous form of certification for social responsibility through Laureate Education and Walden University becoming Certified B Corporations® in 2015.

Walden University is a part of the Laureate International University Network.  We are proud of our association with President Clinton and his role as honorary chancellor at Laureate from 2010 to 2015. It is unfortunate that this association has now drawn us into a political debate.

I should further note that Laureate has claimed a higher than average success yet with its students and currently has almost one million students in its various schools around the world.


152 thoughts on “The Clinton University Problem: Laureate Education Lawsuits Present Problem For Clintons [Updated]”

  1. Pingback: On Liberty Watch
  2. Off topic but, related to education. On June 7, an amicus brief was filed in the California Vegara case. The signers included Lawrence Lessig, Laurence Tribe, Kermit Roosevelt III, … The letterhead was Shook, Hardy and Bacon. If the court decides in favor of Silicon Valley, I presume the brief influenced the decision.
    IMO, Vergara’s potential adverse effect on due process for teachers, causes harm to students and communities. It also jeopardizes one of the few remaining middle class professions in the nation.
    The Diane Ravitch blog post, ” John Thompson: Who is Supporting the Original Vergara Decision” has a letter written to signers of the June 7 brief, asking pertinent questions about the projected impact of Vergara.

  3. You know, that was an amazing amount of innuendo and mealy mouth talk to say “I don’t have any proof of wrongdoing, but I’m sure it is there because big money was being moved around.”

  4. “…but the virtual radio silence on the Clinton/Laureate story is surprising.” Turley

    If I had half the brains of Turley, I’d be a multi-billionaire and President of the World. To be surprised at the radio silence on the Clinton/Laureate story proves that this outstanding professor and highly respected legal mind, justifiably so, is blind to the realities of media bias.

    CBS 60 Minutes

    “Kroft: I’m assuming from your answer that you’re categorically denying that you ever had an affair with Gennifer Flowers.

    Bill Clinton: I said that before. And so has she.”

    And the follow up to his categorical denial was as thorough as the media’s coverage of Watergate.

    Following are excerpts from the interview of Clinton and his wife, Hillary, by Steve Kroft of CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

    Kroft: Who is Gennifer Flowers? You know her.

    Bill Clinton: Oh, yes.

    Kroft: How do you know her? How would you describe your relationship?

    Bill Clinton: Very limited, but until this, you know, friendly but limited . . . .

    Kroft: Was she a friend, an acquaintance? Does your wife know her?

    Hillary Clinton: Oh, sure.

    Bill Clinton: Yes. She was an acquaintance, I would say a friendly acquaintance . . . .

    Kroft: She is alleging and has described in some detail in the supermarket tabloid what she calls a 12-year affair with you.

    Bill Clinton: That allegation is false.

    I love this. “Hillary Clinton: When this woman first got caught up in these charges, I felt as I’ve felt about all of these women: that they . . . had just been minding their own business and they got hit by a meteor . . . . I felt terrible about what was happening to them. Bill talked to this woman every time she called, distraught, saying her life was going to be ruined, and . . . he’d get off the phone and tell me that she said sort of wacky things, which we thought were attributable to the fact that she was terrified.”

    This Mount Holyoke graduate felt terrible for the women who told the press about this reprobate’s behavior? As if it wasn’t her husband’s depravity that led to their accusations?

    Ms. Flowers was terrified? She was terrified? How about slick and that ding-dong that won’t quit? That the American people could be so dumb not to see what these two delinquents have perpetrated on them, that, my friends, is terrifying. That suggests that we are in grave danger to collapsing within for our moral lapses and ineptitude and from without for our enemies relentlessly seek our destruction through any perceived or real weakness.
    Got to love the liberal press. Here is our boy editorializing on the biggest night of this criminal’s hoax on America, “Kroft: I think most Americans would agree that it’s very admirable that you’ve stayed together – that you’ve worked your problems out and that you’ve seemed to reach some sort of understanding and arrangement.”

    “Admirable” Got that? Kroft tells this lying, criminal, conspiring duo that it’s admirable they have worked out their problems. Their understanding consisted of a back room brokered deal: she would stick with this serial sexual assaulter of women, lie through her teeth for him, and in return she’d get his support when it came time for her to get elected.

    “Bill Clinton: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. You’re looking at two people who love each other. This is not an arrangement or an understanding. This is a marriage. That’s a very different thing.” Sure it is Bill, you pathetic, slimy, coward.

    Forget what he says. His pattern of pursuing and trying to pork everything in a dress, nevertheless, only continued to spiral out of control, costing tax payers a fortune, inflicting untold humiliation upon his family, his daughter, our nation, his closest advisers and supporters, and adding to America’s declining prestige. That he continues his all out campaign to take women as objects is further evidence that he is nothing more than a vile, disgusting pig. (no offense to pigs.)

    “Hillary Clinton: You know, I’m not sitting here – some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together. And you know, if that’s not enough for people, then heck, don’t vote for him.”

    She loves, respects and honors a sexual assaulter, a pathological lying scumbag, a little punk who deserves to be in prison for a long stretch. With discernment like that, we want her to lead our nation for the next 4 years? Trump is a horse’s rear end, BTW.

  5. Nick – I actually had a few more minutes this morning to draft a more meaningful response. As was stated above, I’m sure the facts probabaly don’t matter to you, but here goes. First, I’m actually not pro anyone, but I definitely am anti-BS. I’m also not a big fan of cowards who hide behind pseudonyms and hurl insults from the dark corners of the internet because they are unhappy with their station in life. Since you seem to have a lot to say, and you have a link to my contact info, I invite you to give me a call. I’m more than happy to chat with you in person. I’d love to have a discussion about whatever it is that’s made you so angry in life.

    I do have to say that I think it’s hilarious that Condie Rice is rumored to be on the short list for Trump’s VP pick. It may make this a bit sticky given the former Republican Secretary of State is a current member of Laurette’s advisory board and serves as an “honorary” professor for one of their programs in China.

    Moving on: The piece makes a lot of unsupported claims. For example, there are not, nor were there multiple lawsuits against Laurette. It’s very easy to run a PACER search if you’re truly interested. Given the size and scope of the company, I was taken aback by how little they’ve been sued historically. As the good professor knows, anyone who can afford a filing fee can file a cause of action for basically anything. He also knows that it’s not formally a class action until the class is certified. That never happened in this case, and the judge in this matter wasn’t anywhere near certifying a class when the matter was dismissed. Moreover, although we don’t know why the case was dismissed specifically, once can infer based on the motions that the case wasn’t going well for these folks. It has also been reported that at least a couple of these folks have returned to continue their doctorates. Suing your schools has become a new business model for plaintiff’s attorneys and now an almost daily occurrence and no institution is immune. Just look at the following:

    Twelve More Law Schools Slapped with Class Action Lawsuits Over Employment Data

    “Anziska quipped in an interview with us last year that he hoped to turn 2012 into the year of “law school litigation.” Well, the class action crusader is off to a great start, because today, Team Strauss/Anziska partnered up with six other law firms and filed lawsuits against 12 law schools around the country. According to Anziska, ‘these lawsuits will define a generation’.”

    This is the new cash cow for the plaintiffs’ bar.

    You don’t have to like their business model, but plain and simple, the main plaintiff in this matter failed to meet the academic requirements of her program, took three leaves of absences, and then complained that she was delayed. There are transcripts and briefing from the matter online if folks would like to draw their own conclusions, but here are a few fun excerpts.

    THE COURT: You understand all negligence claims are dismissed; correct? Can you restrain yourself from attacking the nonexistent negligence claims?

    THE COURT: I don’t see how that makes it more likely fraudulent than not. I mean, the fact is the scheme, you say, is to extract funds in order to have the student continue on this quest for a degree. I’m not sure how the federal funding makes it more
    likely fraudulent. But do you have anything yet about, for example, how many people actually get their degrees and what’s the percentages and things like that?

    MR. SHAH: There’s no specific allegation to that effect in the Complaint, no, there’s not.

    THE COURT: Well, let’s — okay. I mean, that’s a little repetitious of what you’ve already said. But let’s take this. Let’s take Plaintiff A, whoever Plaintiff A is. And suppose the evidence is, if we get there, that Plaintiff A has submitted a certain paper and the university said it’s not good enough. Okay? And you’re saying that’s part of the scheme, et cetera. Well, suppose it turns out, as a matter of fact, it’s a pretty terrible paper and that any competent faculty member would say, This is garbage and is not acceptable. What does that do for that plaintiff, Plaintiff A? It’s — actually, she’s not entitled to proceed. She would not be entitled to proceed if she had the best possible faculty member. Where are we with that plaintiff? Does that plaintiff then still have a claim?

  6. Donald Billings appears to be part of an organized Clintonista campaign. We need to keep an eye on him. My old man taught me to always be wary of people who wear bow ties.

  7. Its amazing the open biase by the Liberal media in favour of Killery. I am not American, but one would assume that the nature of her crimes; diplomats losing their lives on her watch and her complete lack of empathy for the victims, even refusing to meet the family of the deceased, her senseless “what difference does it make !!” Rant in courts, her links to Wallstreet. These are disturbing traits CNN is trying so hard to cover up. Never in my life did I expect Americans to be this gullible.

    1. What is the scandal here. Bill Clinton was paid a lot of money to go around the Globe to represent a Company that has existed for 46 years. Plus there is no verafication that Bill received this money. Maybe he received stock options plus cash! He did travel all over the world. And it is not a crime to earn money, ask donald Trump.

      There is zero proof that Hillary steered money to Laureate.

      Where is the FRAUD? What is the scandal?

      Boring to repeat all the details of the FRAUD allegations against Mr Trump. I get the feel from your post that facts are not that meaningful to you. But you might want to look it up.

      1. It is beyond scandal when the first statement made by a secretary of state after the tragic killing of Christopher Stevens is to blame a marauding mob by presenting a fake YouTube video…when that video was debunked she changed her story. How does the most powerful nation on Earth deny requests for more security by a U.S Ambasaddor? How does a woman in government earn $399,000 per speech for Wall street companies yet claim to be a champion against Wall street. Why should a secretary if state refuse to meet the mother of the slain Ambassador? How in Earth does the rape and subsequent killing of Kaylar Mueller gets suppressed by the Liberal media yet the story of a 10 year old boy detained by officers mistaken his home made clock for a bomb get front page news for days, with Obama even welcoming him to the White House.

        I am not American but it is sad to watch from afar the United States crumbling under the yoke of Liberal Political Correctness and naive policies. You can dig your head in the sand and pretend otherwise but the truth is bitter. Decades ago the Average American kids dream was to be an astronaut, today America care more about the Kardashians and gay right than than the next space adventure or inventiveness. The ills of American society epitomises Clinton whos’s cold treatment towards those who died under her watch us baffling. Stunning.

  8. As I was saying…

    Students at George Washington University filed a class action lawsuit last week over allegations of fraud involving one of its online master’s degree programs.

    U.S. Marshall Service consultant Brice Bradford told NBC4 that he enrolled in GW’s online masters program in “Security and Safety Leadership” because he didn’t have the time or means to take off from work and attend graduate school full time. He and other students have now accused the university of “fraudulent misrepresentation” after questioning whether or not the courses were taught by instructors.

    Rather than professional instruction, online courses were taught using PowerPoint slides taken from in-class courses. Suspicion among students rose after they attempted to contact professors and received no response. Bradford and other students complained and even sent a letter to the university president Steven Knapp.
    “They absolutely did not get what they were promised,” the plaintiff’s attorney, Hassan Zavareei, said.
    GW advertised its online program as taught by “professors who specialize in online learning education.”
    According to the brief, students were promised the learning experience would “be equivalent to that which students would receive in the classroom.” GW’s website promises that in it’s online programs, “You will learn the same lessons, often from the same professors, as the students on campus do [emphasis added].”
    According to court documents, each plaintiff paid over $28,000 in tuition.
    According to a statement from George Washington University, “since the Security and Safety Leadership program began in 2009, 341 students have graduated, and many have gone onto successful careers in the military, law enforcement and other government agencies.”
    The university also cited federal privacy laws, which prevent them from responding further outside of court in cases that involve current or former students.


  9. It’s interesting to watch the for-profit, not profit debate. Profit is a motivator in all higher education, regardless of corporate formation. A couple of years ago the highly ranked Thunderbird School of Management was near bankruptcy, and their board came close to handing operations over to Laurette. Despite being close to shutting down, the university’s professors continued collect enormous paychecks, some as large as 700k per year. They’ve since been absorbed by ASU.

    Nonprofit education has a dirty little secret. A large number of these institutions have formal partnerships with for-profit entities (e.g., University Alliance). These partnerships handle their extension and online programs. Tuition for these extension programs is often exorbitantly higher than tuition charged than their on-campus programs and many employ the same hard sell tactics as their for profit brethren.

    By example, early last year I contacted North Eastern regarding their Post Graduate Data Science program and had a heck of a time getting off of their marketing list. I received numerous emails and calls for days on end from their “program managers.” I ended up going with the Big Data program at the University of Liverpool, which is managed by Laurette (full disclosure).

    GWU engages in similar practices. I actually work in the legal industry, and as result see a lot of ads for GWU’s online legal programs, including what must be a very valuable “Master of Professional Studies in Law Firm Management” online degree for a paltry $44,000 (which can be financed via the link at the bottom of the page via financial aid) Although this is a particularly silly example, and I’m sure the programs are ok, it’s hypocritical to pretend that the non-profit world is uninterested in profits. It’s simply a different animal chasing the same prey.

  10. Justin, that’s not what it says. The organization drafted a press release that says the complex business model cannot by evaluated using Charity Navigator’s current metrics. Nothing more.

    Why isn’t this organization rated?

    “We had previously evaluated this organization, but have since determined that this charity’s atypical business model can not be accurately captured in our current rating methodology. Our removal of The Clinton Foundation from our site is neither a condemnation nor an endorsement of this charity. We reserve the right to reinstate a rating for The Clinton Foundation as soon as we identify a rating methodology that appropriately captures its business model.
    What does it mean that this organization isn’t rated?

    It simply means that the organization doesn’t meet our criteria. A lack of a rating does not indicate a positive or negative assessment by Charity Navigator.”

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