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ASU, adidas grow alliance with scholarship partnership

Pilot program to cover majority of ASU Online degree costs for 100 adidas employees, with shared goal of helping people succeed

Mark King and Michael Crow speak onstage
August 24, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. — Leaders of adidas and Arizona State University on Thursday revealed plans to expand access to higher education for employees of the athletic apparel giant during an event at the company’s U.S. headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

The adidas/ASU Digital Education Partnership is the latest development in the Global Sport Alliance, a strategic partnership announced in June with the goal of shaping the future of sport and amplifying its positive impact on society.

“From [adidas’] standpoint, it not only achieves their mission of social purpose but of investing in their workforce, in the people who make them successful. For [ASU], it allows us to deliver on our charter and make people successful,” said Jeffrey Angle, executive director of marketing and relationships at EdPlus, ASU's unit that creates technology for new ways of teaching and learning.

Scholarships are available to the pilot-sized group of benefits-eligible employees within the U.S. and will cover a majority of degree costs beginning in January, with aspirations to scale the program internationally over the next three years.

The program reflects both adidas’ and ASU’s commitment to social embeddedness detailed in the Global Sport Alliance. Its objective is to bring together education, athletics, research and innovation to explore topics including diversity, sustainability and human potential — all through the lens of sport.

At Thursday’s event here at adidas Village, the company's name for its Portland-area campus, about 500 employees watched a video detailing ASU’s charter — inclusion vs. exclusion; impact on public good; responsibility for the broader community — played on a jumbo screen.

When the lights came back up, President of adidas North America Mark King took the stage and greeted the crowd before launching into an introduction of the day’s discussion. It would be, he said, the first of a series of discussions to come which would feature speakers who are trying to make the world a better place and who can share their insights and passion with the adidas family.

The theme of this first talk was impact and innovation.

“When I thought about our first speaker,” King said, “there was really only one person that came to mind when talking about innovation and inclusion.”

He then recounted his first meeting with  ASU President Michael M. Crow in 2014 when adidas entered into an athletic relationship with the university.

“It only took me one meeting to understand the opportunity that we would have as an organization to partner in a more meaningful way,” King said.

Out of that understanding came the Global Sport Alliance.

“This is different than a relationship between two institutions who are buying and selling services from each other. That’s not why we have a relationship. What we care about is what can we do to enhance human potential.”
— ASU President Michael M. Crow

Crow — sporting ASU/adidas wrestling gear, a nod to his days as a heavyweight wrestler — then addressed the crowd. He praised those gathered there for their part in designing tools that have the potential to transform the world and allow human beings to move in a new direction — away from competition as survival and toward realizing unforeseen potential.

Crow praised the company in general, as well, calling it “a conscious capitalist organization as opposed to a mindless organization” concerned only with the bottom line.

adidas, Crow said, “cares about peoples’ lives, about being fair” and about providing life-changing educational opportunities to those who seek them, a value he noted is shared by ASU.

“But there’s an inherent flaw in college education in the U.S.,” Crow said. “If you come from the bottom quartile of family incomes, as I did, you have an eight percent chance of getting a degree even if you’re in the upper 20 percentile of academic achievement.

“That’s messed up. That’s not something we can change the country with. That’s not something we can move in a new direction with.”

And it’s something that spurred him to completely restructure the model for the public university, something he has been laboring at for the past 15 years at ASU. Crow’s New American University is one that matches inclusion with excellence, striving for a student body that reflects the diversity and socioeconomic demographics of the country at large and a faculty that performs just as well or better than that of institutions that limit acceptance to students coming from families in the upper 1 percent of the annual income bracket.

Several initiatives and partnerships have helped ASU get to that point, including the Starbucks College Achievement Program, which today has more than 7,000 Starbucks employees participating in the program.

When Aaron Shannahan, who works in finance at adidas, heard the news that his company will be rolling out a similar program, he called it “an awesome opportunity for anyone who hasn’t finished their degree or who is looking to advance their education further.”

Crow left the crowd Thursday with a key takeaway: Accept nothing as a given; your future is something you must determine, and ASU and adidas are committing to making sure everyone has the chance to do that.

“This is different than a relationship between two institutions who are buying and selling services from each other,” he said. “That’s not why we have a relationship. What we care about is what can we do to enhance human potential, to produce whole people who can advance physically, intellectually, socially, culturally, morally. … We think there’s a huge opportunity working with you all toward that end, and we’re very excited about that.”

Top photo: President of adidas North America Mark King (left) and ASU President Michael Crow speak onstage at the athletics apparel company's U.S. headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy of adidas

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