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One Wharton professor is doing everything he can to block Donald Trump's victory in November, including paying over $100 thousand to the Democratic Natonal Committee | News Photo Editor Julio Sosa

Credit: Julio Sosa

CHARLESTON, S.C. — As a presidential candidate with no political experience, Donald Trump often cites his degree from the “Wharton School of Finance” as evidence that he is capable of running the country and making America great again.

His supporters, however, remain largely unfamiliar with and uninterested in his business school background.

Unawareness about the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania revealed a refreshing, if not grounding truth: that Ivy League degrees, which Penn students view as tickets to success in metropolitan areas like New York, Philadelphia and Boston, do not carry the same value with Americans across the country where signs of privilege can alienate rather than attract voters.

Interviews with 11 soon-to-be voters in and around a Charleston Trump rally on Friday revealed that only one of the people interviewed, a Philadelphia native, knew where Trump had attended college. The other ten had no idea about his educational background at all or only knew that he had gone to business school. What’s more: when told that Trump attended one of the top business schools in the country, all 11 of the voters said it did not affect their perception of him as a candidate.

The presidential candidate graduated from Wharton as an undergraduate in 1968 after he transferred from Fordham University in New York. Though he is one of the most high-profile graduates to come out of Penn, his supporters aren’t generally aware of his prestigious educational background and instead view his wealth and business success as markers that he can improve the country’s economy.

When asked if her perception of Trump was different once she knew that he had graduated from a top business school, one 50-year-old Trump supporter — donning several “Make America Great Again” buttons on a jacket — said his record in business, not his degree, showed his leadership ability.

“He’s already proven,” she said, simply. “He’s a very smart man. He wouldn’t be where he is today if he wasn’t smart and in business.”

All of the other people interviewed seemed to agree that his Wharton degree alone was insignificant in gaining their support. 

Trump’s Wharton credentials did not play a role in his support from voters such as 19-year-old Franklin White.

White, a Guatemalan immigrant and freshman at the College of Charleston, attended the Trump rally donning a “Trump 2016” hat and a T-shirt emblazoned with the hand-written words “Build the Wall.” He already knew Trump was a smart man based on the promises he has made and learning that Trump had attended a top business school did not add or detract from his perception of the businessman and politician, he said.

“He’s actually wanting to enforce the laws that we have in place for immigration — I don’t even think it’s immigration because they’re coming here illegally; they’re breaking the law,” he said.

Such insights into the psyches of Trump supporters seemed to ring true for other voters I spoke with: they were impressed by tangible, proven success in the business world rather than more typical signs of presidential preparedness like academic credentials and political experience.

Debbie, a 40-year-old woman from Summerville, South Carolina, said she would vote for Trump, but learning that he went to Wharton did not make her more inclined to support Trump than she already was.

Explaining her stance, she said, “Because he’s obviously a do-er; he gets things done. He’s built an empire — he knows what he’s doing.”

The only person interviewed who knew that Trump went to Wharton, a Philadelphia native in his 60s who now lives in South Carolina, said his education wasn’t impressive, instead citing Trump’s status as a self-made entrepreneur as the reason he was qualified to lead the country.

“Don’t forget the story: His father told him not to go to Manhattan, and he did and he made it big,” he said, adding, “I like the fact that he doesn’t take any stuff from anyone. People from Philly don’t take stuff from anyone either.”

Voters’ ignorance of Trump’s Ivy League business background shows that the prestigious Wharton degree — which non-Trump supporters, especially Penn students and graduates, might assume is central to his popularity — is largely irrelevant to his surge in support.

Such an attitude was never more evident than when Brett Osborne — a 20-year-old Republican voter who was undecided between former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (before he dropped out the next day) and Trump — said that having a prestigious education is often a sign of wealth, not character or capability.

“If you have enough money, you can get into the best business school,” he said.

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