And that's the point you're overlooking - you're view of this is colored, suggesting what they're doing needs a penalty of slap.
I'm saying there will be and should not be any penalty for this. They are offering discounts to .edu's, they get mentioned, they get the link and it counts.
It's subjective, and for those of us with no skin in the game it doesn't look like they've done anything worthy of a Google slap. In fact, I'm darn right certain that Google, even if they reviewed this by hand, would do absolutely nothing. What they've done is just smart, not risky.
Everything we do is intended to manipulate the serps. EVERYTHING. If what they're doing is too risky for you, then ponder it deeply - how can you take this technique and make it better for your own use? Student discounts? Professional discounts? offer a % of sales back to the university?
That's the first thing to take away - how to thieve their idea and make it better. The second thing to see is a deepeer appreciation for where the line is drawn by Google. JCPenny, hardcore bought links on inappropriate pages. Overstock, mention of their promotion on very appropriate pages.
Not a lot different than advertising your URL in university newspapers that get copied online. Folks have been doing that for a decade.