The Thunderbird School of Global Management has signed a letter of intent to become a part of Arizona State University, the university announced Thursday. Thunderbird is a freestanding, well-respected private business school, but it has struggled financially in recent years and has been looking to become part of a larger institution. In April, amid criticism from some alumni and objections from its accreditor, Thunderbird and the for-profit higher education company Laureate announced that they were ending talks about an affiliation. Some of the criticism of the proposed deal focused on Laureate's for-profit status.
Thunderbird would remain an independent unit of Arizona State (which has a business school) under the plan being discussed. Current Thunderbird students would be able to finish their current degree programs. The Arizona State statement said changes would also take place at Thunderbird. "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," the statement said. When the merger is complete, tuition rates (in-state and out of state) would be set by Arizona Board of Regents rules.
Will Counts, executive director of the Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association, which led opposition to the Laureate plan, issued this statement: "The Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association was surprised at the recent announcement and that the alumni had to first find out about the merger through the media rather than from our alma mater. We have a great deal of respect for ASU, their recent success and wish to remain optimistic. Before we comment on the merits of the ASU-Thunderbird integration we are going to have to see more details about the structure of this transaction. Based on the articles presented thus far, it is even more important to have an independent alumni association going forward."