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Thunderbird Leaders Get Bad News

Thunderbird loses ground in new P&Q ranking for 2013

Thunderbird loses ground in new P&Q ranking for 2013

A highly controversial partnership between the Thunderbird School of Global Management and for-profit education player Laureate Education Inc. hit a snag yesterday (March 15).

The Higher Learning Commission, an accreditation agency, declined to extend Thunderbird’s accreditation to the proposed joint venture for undisclosed reasons. Approval by the commission is necessary for its students to qualify for federal student loans and grants.

Critics of the deal, including a sizable portion of Thunderbird’s alumni, are likely to see the accreditor’s decision not to extend Thunderbird’s accreditation to the joint venture as a victory of sorts because they have been vehemently opposed to the hook up. But Thunderbird has said the deal is badly needed to help the troubled school’s financials.


Thunderbird lost $8.7 million in fiscal 2013, more than twice as much as it had lost a year earlier. An early pioneer in creating a truly global MBA education, the school’s distinctiveness has been greatly diminished as other business schools have become more international. Applications to the school’s flagship MBA program have plunged by nearly 75% in the past 15 years.

The decision puts into jeopardy the deal between Thunderbird and Laureate which would have provided Thunderbird with a cash infusion of nearly $52 million for a sale-leaseback of the school’s Glendale, Ariz., campus. The partnership would allow Laureate to leverage the Thunderbird brand at its for-profit campuses around the world.

The ruling by the accreditation agency was first disclosed by The Wall Street Journal which reported that Thunderbird officials issued a brief statement to the school community. “Thunderbird is continuing conversations with HLC,” said Thunderbird President Larry Penley and Board Chair Ann Iverson. Trustees, they said, are also “exploring various strategic alternatives, including models of collaboration with Laureate,” to address the concerns of the accreditation agency.

The Journal reported that the school didn’t say what those concerns were, nor did the HLC’s notice indicate why its own board voted against the agreement.