1. Business

Ex-Trump University executives are now guiding a Tampa academy

UMA, a Tampa health care career school, also has a campus in Clearwater. It has been the subject of 60 complaints to the Better Business Bureau in the past three years, and 11 complaints to the state Attorney General’s Office.
UMA, a Tampa health care career school, also has a campus in Clearwater. It has been the subject of 60 complaints to the Better Business Bureau in the past three years, and 11 complaints to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Published Jul. 22, 2016

TAMPA — Two current executives of a Tampa health care career academy previously served as executives at Trump University, the now-shuttered institute founded by the Republican presidential nominee that is being sued by former students and the New York state attorney general alleging it engaged in fraudulent, illegal and deceptive conduct.

The connection between Ultimate Medical Academy and Trump University was first reported by the Huffington Post and Republic Report, a website administered by David Halperin, a longtime critic of the for-profit education industry.

UMA, which operates as a nonprofit, has campuses in Tampa and Clearwater.

David Highbloom, UMA's co-chief executive, served as Trump University's chief operating officer, while April Neumann, UMA's vice president of career services, was Trump University's director of operations.

The Huffington Post/Republic Report article said a third executive, Jason Schauer, indicated on a LinkedIn profile that he served in Ultimate Medical Academy's learner services division from 2010 to 2015 and held "prior positions" with Trump University. The Trump information is no longer posted on Schauer's LinkedIn profile.

An Ultimate Medical Academy spokesman said the local school is not concerned about fallout from the Trump University legal action.

"No, we are not concerned about our reputation, but acknowledge the heightened interest in the storyline during this political season," Dan Soschin, UMA's vice president of marketing, wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. "What we are concerned about each and every day is making sure our students have an outstanding experience and strong outcomes."

Highbloom and Neumann declined to comment.

UMA has been the subject of 60 complaints to the Better Business Bureau West Florida in the past three years. It has also been the subject of 11 complaints to the state Attorney General's Office.

In those complaints and other postings on online review sites, some students say they faced harassing phone calls, were pressured into enrolling, that employers were not impressed with their credentials, and that they are mired in debt and were misled about their financial responsibility.

The Tampa school was the subject of a whistle-blower lawsuit filed in 2012. An employee of UMA alleged that the school falsely and fraudulently submitted applications for federal loans and grants; the suit was dismissed after the U.S. Justice Department declined to join the case.

New York businessman Donald Trump, formally nominated on Tuesday to be the Republican presidential candidate at the party's national convention in Cleveland, launched Trump University in 2005. He owned 93 percent of the company, which was renamed the Trump Entrepreneurship Initiative in 2010 and closed shortly afterward as the New York attorney general began its investigation.

Follow trends affecting the local economy

Follow trends affecting the local economy

Subscribe to our free Business by the Bay newsletter

We’ll break down the latest business and consumer news and insights you need to know every Wednesday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Students were attracted by free seminars where additional courses were pitched with the promise of teaching Trump's skills at real estate and dealmaking. Some of those who bought in ended up paying as much as $35,000 for what was purported to be private mentoring with supposed real estate experts.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed suit, alternately calling Trump University "straight-up fraud," "just a scam," "phony" and "heartless." The suit seeks full restitution for the more than 5,000 consumers nationwide who Schneiderman said were defrauded of more than $40 million.

Both Highbloom and Neumann, the two UMA executives, are listed as defense witnesses in another Trump case filed by former students in southern California.

"To the best of our knowledge, only three of our hundreds of current employees have worked for Trump U, and none have worked at any Trump entity in the last five years," UMA's Soschin said. "As an accredited, degree-granting institution, we serve a different purpose in the education landscape than Trump U."

UMA has more than 13,000 students. Fewer than 1,000 of those students attend on-campus classes at the Clearwater campus, 1255 Cleveland St., or at the Tampa campus, in the former Floriland Mall complex at 9309 N Florida Ave. The vast majority study exclusively online.

The school offers degree and diploma programs training medical assistants, nursing assistants, patient care technicians and those in billing and coding, among other fields.

Enrollment at the Tampa campus has been halted as the academy evaluates demand for the programs taught there, UMA said.

UMA reported that it places anywhere from 70 to 85 percent of its students in jobs in their field, depending on the program. The academy said its programs cost $15,000 to $16,950, and students' median loan debt ranged from $8,250 to $11,636, depending on the program.

Ultimate Medical Academy was founded as a nonprofit institution in 1994 and was acquired by the nonprofit Clinical and Patient Educators Association last year.

The Trump University case, meanwhile, has emerged as a potential factor in the presidential election. Disgruntled Trump University students have shown up in campaign advertising, and Trump himself raised hackles when he criticized the judge in the California case for unsealing sensitive documents on his school's strategy. Trump said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel was biased because of his Mexican heritage.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi's office deliberated joining the New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University in 2013. Bondi personally solicited a political contribution from Trump about the same time; after Trump made a $25,000 donation to Bondi, her office rejected suing Trump.

Information from the Associated Press was included in this report. Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Jerome R. Stockfisch at (813) 226-3390.