Thunderbird and Arizona State University Update

To Our Global Thunderbird Community,

I am truly excited that we have reached preliminary agreement to pursue joining the Arizona State University (ASU) community to further the global brand, mission and sustainability of our beloved school.

ASU has been a good and respected neighbor for a long time and will be a great home for Thunderbird. ASU is one of the world’s most innovative universities and is consistently ranked as among the top schools in the US and worldwide. It is ranked by US News and World Report as the 2nd most innovative school in the US, and the National Academy of Inventors recently recognized ASU for being a Top 100 Worldwide University. ASU is a globally minded partner. It makes a significant commitment to global impact with one of its eight New American University Design Aspirations being “Engage Globally”. It already has more than 6,000 non-US students, and it has an array of international programs for which Thunderbird can play a critical leadership role via Thunderbird’s own historic commitment to global management education.

Thunderbird will join the collection of colleges, schools and institutes which constitute ASU. As previously reported, the cost to remain competitive, true to our mission and able to lead in the fast changing global education market has progressively exceeded our means. Seeking a strong, compatible, globally-minded partner who supports our mission became the necessary strategic path to build a runway for sustainable growth and global leadership.

ASU is led by Dr. Michael Crow, broadly regarded as one of the best, most innovative university presidents. According to Dr. Crow, “…we believe in, we are committed to, and we share the ideals and aspiration found in your mission, vision and oath. Like Thunderbird, ASU is focused on the education of principled global leaders who create value, grow communities, and establish a society of stability rather than volatility.” Importantly, ASU seeks to significantly expand its global leadership credentials and regards Thunderbird as a primary driver toward that goal. ASU is committed to maintaining and advancing the Thunderbird vision and mission.

Under the principal terms of our agreement, Thunderbird will:

  • Become a separate unit within the ASU community, called the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University.
  • Bring its strong brand as key global driver of ASU as the New American University, including collaborative arrangements within ASU for new global platforms.
  • Focus on degree programs that are distinctively Thunderbird’s and that are non-duplicative of other existing ASU degree programs, e.g., the W. P. Carey MBA. While no final decisions have been made on future degree programs of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, the legacy degree - the Masters of International Management (MIM) - is a prime candidate for leading the Thunderbird School’s academic degree offerings. Selected global MS degrees are likely to be offered in in-person, hybrid and online formats along with international management specializations within new and existing graduate and undergraduate programs.
  • Lead with International Executive Education as a distinctive strength of Thunderbird’s, and plans call for it to play a central role in the School’s non-degree offerings within ASU.
  • Continue to offer currently enrolled students and those entering in September degrees from Thunderbird School of Global Management. Thereafter, the degrees will come from Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. (These plans are subject to regulatory approval.)
  • Continue to have its own integrated alumni association, led by the Alumni Council of Thunderbird (ACT), as a personal and professional asset for past and future graduates as well as the advancement and development of future Thunderbird educational programs.

Operationally, ASU will assume control of the Thunderbird operations at closing subject to approval from the accrediting and regulatory agencies. Consummation of the transaction is subject to agreement upon a Plan of Transfer, completion of due diligence, satisfaction of other closing conditions, and approval by the Arizona Board of Regents and regulatory bodies.

As a School within the ASU community, the Thunderbird corporation will no longer be the employer, and ASU will make selective offers to a large number of Thunderbird’s current faculty and to many of Thunderbird’s staff. Following the close, those employees accepting ASU offers will become ASU employees with the ASU benefit package and responsibilities consistent with ASU’s structure and management.

Plans are already underway to submit the necessary applications for change to the Higher Learning Commission, the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education, and AACSB, among others. We have been pleased with the initial response by representatives of these accrediting bodies. ASU already has institutional accreditation by AACSB, Thunderbird’s business specialization accreditor, and ASU and Thunderbird are both accredited by the same U.S. regional accrediting body, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (the Higher Learning Commission).

According to Ann Iverson, Chairman of the Thunderbird Board of Trustees, “We have been through a challenging period but we have remained true to our mission and our promise to students as we sought the best possible path forward. Our future with ASU is bright, our mission is preserved and we will now have a sustainable path to grow and lead.”

This is a positive pivotal moment for us all. We are now turning the page to a new chapter in the proud, amazing history of Thunderbird. Onward!


Larry E. Penley, Ph.D.
Larry Edward Penley, Ph.D.