Thunderbird Changes Admissions Requirements

Dr. Allen Morrison Photo from Poets and Quants
Dr. Allen Morrison
Photo from Poets and Quants

An Exposé by Jessica Knutzon, Features Editor, and Marissa Burkett, Staff Writer

Students who have been closely watching the new program information on the Thunderbird website noticed a change to the admission requirements for new students. New Master of Global Management (MGM)  students will be required to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) only at the discretion of the admissions committee. In recent history, all Thunderbird students were required to take either the GMAT or GRE exams to be admitted. On February 10, Thunderbird students received an e-mail from Thunderbird CEO and Director General, Dr. Allen Morrison, informing them of the new admissions requirements for incoming students. Since then, conversations around campus have varied both in response to this news as well as in response to communication channel effectiveness between administration, current students, and alumni.

After a meeting with Registrar James Scott on February 12 to discuss course options for the coming trimesters, Dr. Morrison took a few moments to speak to students about the change in admissions requirements. This decision to speak to students came the week after Sadia Khan, Director of Admissions, submitted her resignation, partly due to the recent change in admissions requirements. Besides the immediate loss of Khan to the community, some students are concerned about the effect that this decision will have on the value of the Thunderbird brand in the future.

Dr. Morrison addressed the issue promptly, “An issue that came up and I wanted to take a minute to talk about it…some of you have been talking about it… and that’s the issue of admissions standards for upcoming students,” which prefaced the rest of the conversation about his commitment to creating a better future for Thunderbird.

“Now… Are we making some changes to admissions? [Yes], we are. But some of you think these are are big changes, but in fact they are not big changes. They have been actually going on for many years. Here, there and everywhere at business schools around the world. First off, Thunderbird is no longer going to be a business school, it’s going to be a management school. Our degree is no longer going to be a MBA degree, which I think strategically is a smart move for this institution.” Dr. Morrison continued to reiterate why Thunderbird will no longer require a GMAT for several minutes.

The Thunderbird Tower Picture from Bloomberg
The Thunderbird Tower
Picture from Bloomberg

At this point, Dr. Morrison opened the floor for questions.

A first-year student asked, “Because the MBA programming is leaving, I comprehend why the GMAT is not required, but why is the GRE not required?” To which Dr. Morrison responded, “The same requirement…many students will be asked to take the GRE depending on their background. They will be told whether or not they need to take the exam.

Other students showed interest in taking more of an active role in this live business study and more inclusiveness in the logic of the decision making process. Drew Himmelreich, a first-year MBA student, said this:

“[Thunderbird is] an active business case that is unfolding around us, we are part of a company that was struggling and was acquired. But the problem is, we are not being active participants. This is a small class, the last MBAs, we don’t have transparency, are not being updated, getting these e-mails that don’t mean anything.  I understand that we don’t get to make decisions, but if you were to keep us informed about the vision. When Dr. Crow finally showed up, we had been terrified for a long time and it was kind of damage control. There was a ruckus when news came out and reactive to the trajectory of Thunderbird. Don’t you think that we are entitled to part of the vision of Thunderbird, what you are thinking, what you are planning. I think that the logic you presented earlier, we could all get with that, but to acknowledge us as students, we are curious to know what’s happening and there is an administration that says that they have their best interests at heart and we are on the outs and its very frustrating.

The GMAT/ GRE decision is just the first of a long line of changes that Thunderbird students have faced in the past few years.  However, this particular decision has wrought strong opinions from interested parties.  Current students have been vocal both in support and against  this recent decision, and the changes to the school in general.

Remi Hanna, MBA ‘16:  “During the application to our MBA, the administration and staff were really not honest with us and we based our decisions on dishonest answers and advice. This has affected my image of Thunderbird, it went from very positive to very negative.”

Alina Buzgar, MBA ’16: “Personally, as a former recruiter, I have never been a big fan of using standardized test results in selecting the best candidates. Behavioral questions and just a sit down with a candidate ensures a much better rate at successfully choosing the right person. As a European, I think that even though GRE/GMAT are global tests, they do not hold as much weight in the European educational or business environment. As a T-Bird, I put my hope in that the leadership of the school has thought through the implications of this change and I feel I have to accept it as a business decision.”

Carlos Melendez, MS ‘15:  If you want to come to the U.S. to study in an American business school, taking the GMAT makes sense.  All of the classes are in English. It’s not only about your math skills , which are universal, but your English should be at a level that will allow you to succeed.”

Andres Porras, MBA ‘16:  “I support Dr. Morrison’s view for the school because I think that Thunderbird has to differentiate from other business schools in the U.S. and the school has to go back to its roots as the #1 international school in the world. I know that the GMAT score is important for some business schools but since Thunderbird is a school for international students, where people come from all over the world, where they don’t have access to the same resources that Americans have. “

TSG President Sabah Hussain, MBA ‘15, and Vice President Tion Barnaby, MBA ’16, were encouraged that the town hall would lead to more communication between administration and the students.  “The trimester is just getting started, so we don’t know Dr. Morrison well at all,” says Hussain. ” He offered to come speak with students. A lot of students took the opportunity to share. I think it was a good start.”

Barnaby said, “There are a lot of changes happening in regards to how Thunderbird will continually progress under the ASU umbrella. Dr. Morrison took the time to address some of our students and listen to their concerns. I believe that this open forum facilitated the discussion of different perspectives on the Thunderbird strategy moving forward. Ultimately, It was clearly established that everyone had a valid interest in preserving the Thunderbird mystique. I believe that this common interest should be our main driving force moving forward.

Thunderbird faculty interviewed had a positive outlook on the changes and and focused on the necessity of change in general.

Dr. Mary Teagarden, Professor of Global Management: “We have had very successful programs (EMBA and OD) that waive GMAT/GRE and graduate T-Birds that make us proud.  The EMBA requires 7+ years of significant work/executive experience and applicants are personally interviewed by three faculty members. The OD requires 3+ years of managerial work experience and solid undergraduate performance/transcripts.  When I was VP–15 years ago we introduced the process for waiving GMAT in these programs and the MGM (offered in partnership with Monterrey Tech) using their customized admissions test, the PAEP.  We found that for our programs all of these approaches enabled us to screen and select students who are successful in these programs and of whom we are proud.”

Dr. Bill Youngdahl, Associate Professor of Operations Management: “To truly move forward, we need to engage and reinvigorate the talent and capacity of the Thunderbird family. I’m asking alumni to Skype into my second-half spring class sessions. Alumni are eager to share, and students will learn from T-Birds who are already doing what they hope to do.”

While there is not agreement on the matter, it is fortunate that stakeholders care about Thunderbird. Hopefully, all parties will have Thunderbird’s best interests as their interests.


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