Thunderbird on the rocks?

Not the cheap wine … we’re talking higher education.

An article in the Economist caught my eye: “The higher-education business – Honours without profits?”

The thrust of the article was that  not-for-profit schools are starting to hook-up with for-profit schools … ostensibly to frame a more sustainable business model …  merging the intellectual capacity of universities with the content delivery efficiency of the for-profits.

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Interesting, but that’s not what caught my eye … here’s what did.

Despite its goofy name, I’ve always thought of Thunderbird as a good school – especially in the global arena,

I assumed that the school was thriving.

But, the Economist article – which was simply using T’bird as an example of profits & not-for-profits connecting – painted a different picture.

Like many American colleges, Thunderbird is short of cash.

Enrollment on its $67,000 full-time MBA program is down from over 1,000 students in 2001 to just 142 this year.

The school’s endowment fund is just $27m … paltry compared to HBS’s $2.7 billion.

Enter Laureate – a $4 billion for-profit educator – proposing to partner with T’bird.

Thunderbird thinks the Laureate deal, which it hopes to ratify within weeks, could herald a return to the good days.

Thunderbird insists that the school itself, founded on a former air-force base after the second world war, will remain a non-profit.

The partnership revenues will be used to create foreign campuses, to expand the school’s online teaching and courses for executives, and to introduce undergraduate degrees.

Students and alums are concerned that the Thunderbird – Laureate deal will compromise academic standards and dilute the T’bird brand image.

Hmmm.

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