ASU, Thunderbird School discuss potential merger

Arizona State University is in discussions to have the Thunderbird School of Global Management join the collection of colleges, schools and institutes which constitute ASU. A letter of intent outlining the general terms under which the integration would take place has been agreed to by Thunderbird and ASU, and ASU is working diligently and productively towards a final agreement.

“This merger offers significant advantages to both institutions,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Through the integration of Thunderbird with ASU, the Thunderbird historic global education vision will be sustained and extended, students at ASU and Thunderbird will have access to more courses and programs, ASU’s executive education programs can be broadened and expanded, and financial efficiencies will be created.”

“This is a big moment in Thunderbird’s history, and we are excited by the significant opportunity it represents to join with one of the world’s most innovative universities," according to Larry Penley, president of Thunderbird. "Both institutions share compatible missions and a strong commitment to global impact, which can energize us both.”

Thunderbird, as a separate unit at ASU, would bring its powerful international reputation and its strong global management and executive education programs, and serve as an excellent complement to the renowned business education programs in ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business.

The W. P. Carey School is one of the highest-ranked and largest business schools in the United States, with more than 11,000 students, and undergraduate business, full-time MBA, part-time MBA and online MBA programs all ranked top 30 by U.S. News & World Report. The school is internationally regarded for its research – recently ranked No. 1 overall for business-school research productivity by the academic journal Technovation. Its distinguished faculty members include a Nobel Prize winner. Students come from more than 90 countries and include about 50 National Merit Scholars and more than 100 doctoral candidates. The vast alumni network includes more than 90,000.

Founded in 1946, Thunderbird is the historic leader in global management education, repeatedly ranked at or near the top for international business by U.S. News & World Report, among the The Economist’s top three schools for its international alumni network, and third in the world for its customized executive education by the Financial Times. It offers a range of graduate management degree programs, and also conducts an extensive executive education program with companies in the United States and around the world. Thunderbird has approximately 750 full-time and working professional students on its Phoenix West Valley campus and offers programs in dozens of locations across the United States, as well as Europe, Asia, South America and Africa, including at major centers in Switzerland and Russia. Its mission of focusing on the education of principled global leaders who create value, grow communities and establish a society of stability rather than volatility would fit well with ASU’s New American University design aspirations of inclusion and excellence, social embeddedness and global engagement.

ASU is ranked one of the top 80 universities in the world and offers undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs on four Metro Phoenix campuses to some 78,000 students, and it has one of the nation’s best and most successful Internet-based degree programs, ASU Online.

Under the terms being discussed, many existing Thunderbird degree and executive education programs, along with a number of new educational programs, would be offered by the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University as early as the fall 2015 term. At the same time, students currently enrolled at Thunderbird and those enrolling in fall 2014 would continue to complete the Thunderbird degrees in which they initially enrolled. The current and new programs would be offered by members of the current Thunderbird faculty who will become members of the ASU faculty, with the offerings supplemented by ASU with complementary expertise. The reorganized program offerings are subject to review by the Higher Learning Commission, ASU and Thunderbird’s accreditation agency.

Thunderbird programs can be operated utilizing ASU core support and administrative services at a lower cost than Thunderbird can maintain such services itself, said Crow. Existing ASU undergraduate programs and new ASU undergraduate programs can serve as a pipeline of students for Thunderbird programs, expanding enrollment and providing new opportunities to ASU’s students.

Other advantages to the two institutions:

• Complementary ASU academic programs in global culture and language can be integrated into the Thunderbird curriculum in a way that benefits both ASU and Thunderbird.

• New and existing ASU programs can be offered internationally in ways that take advantage of the Thunderbird brand to expand enrollment and generate additional revenue; and

• The executive education programs of Thunderbird and ASU can be offered in a complementary and expanded manner.

After Thunderbird joins ASU, the school – like ASU other's colleges, schools and institutes – will be governed by the Arizona Board of Regents. However, Thunderbird’s global alumni network of 41,000 graduates in 126 countries will be maintained and enhanced for purposes of ensuring a deep connection to the rich history, legacy, traditions and mission of the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

As part of the work underway under the letter of intent, Thunderbird and ASU will work to restructure the form that the faculty and staff operations would take as a unit of ASU. Personnel reductions are likely to result, with the goal of making the new Thunderbird school self-sustaining within ASU so that no current or new state appropriations or existing tuition will be required. The nature and scale of the reductions are still being studied.

ASU and Thunderbird will be working diligently to complete the work needed to determine if the integration described above can be structured, and expect to complete the work on a timetable that allows an agreement to be completed by the end of July and a completion of the needed accreditation changes later in the calendar year.