3 ways cooperative purchasing agreements support student success

Information technology is the #1 area where entities access cooperative buying agreements.
Ryan Balber
Ryan Balberhttps://vhepc.org/
Ryan Balber is the director of the Virginia Higher Education Procurement Consortium (VHEPC).

Most student affairs professionals would do just about anything to support students in the increasingly dynamic and resource-strapped landscape of higher education. While partnering with procurement is often a last stop in the process of adding student support resources, I suggest doing so sooner to save time, save money and create capacity for other initiatives.

As a longtime procurement professional, I’ve seen many well-intentioned administrators reinvent the wheel when seeking solutions to improve campus life and student outcomes; connecting with procurement before doing any research could transform how they approach investing in related resources.

As the Director of the Virginia Higher Education Procurement Consortium (VHEPC), I manage $350 million in cooperative contract spending, leveraging collective buying power to create efficiency and value for our 36 member institutions. Guided by strategic sourcing principles and grounded in data analytics, our team drives the development of cooperative contracts and provides a forum for schools to share learnings and best practices. Additionally, and by design, we aim to facilitate opportunities for small-, minority-, woman- and veteran-owned businesses in the procurement marketplace.

Here are some examples of how cooperative purchasing agreements can benefit your school and others.

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Mental health and well-being resources

Sometimes great minds think alike at the same time. When Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, James Madison University and Virginia’s Community Colleges identified the need for a collaborative agreement for virtual mental health services, they decided that Virginia Tech would be the ideal lead agency. The other schools agreed to go in together, which made it easy for public and private schools across the state to adopt the same terms and seamlessly add services. Today, more than a dozen schools outside of Virginia—including the University of Delaware, University of South Florida, and several member institutions of the Illinois Public Higher Education Cooperative—also have leveraged the cooperative buying agreement with TimelyCare to reduce procurement red tape and expand access to care quickly and easily.

Technology support

Information technology is the #1 area where entities access cooperative buying agreements. Specific computing and networking needs may vary by campus, but having a well-thought-out contract that supports the business, academic and campus life needs of an institution as complex and diverse as a college or university can be a game-changer. While the University of Virginia is the lead agency for the public solicitation, my team has helped VHEPC members, dozens of other public and private colleges and universities and state agencies leverage spending volume and avoid duplicative procurement efforts. While IT services are typically outside the scope of student affairs, being intentional about resource procurement, administration and allocation creates the capacity to support campus life in other ways.

Laundry services

Let’s face it: Students have a lot of dirty laundry. When William & Mary needed a new resource for a residential laundry service, the university recognized that a cooperative contract could benefit many institutions with a strategic approach and minimal hassle. Our team worked closely with theirs to ensure the RFP would attract vendors capable of serving schools nationwide, facilitating credit card payments, and managing the associated technology. Caldwell & Gregory was awarded the contract, which so far has been leveraged by Louisiana State University, the University of Arkansas and Texas A&M University. Wash, rinse, repeat.

So, the next time you’re considering a new investment for students, share your needs with your procurement department to see what solutions in the form of research, contracts or cooperative interest might be available to your campus. States like Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts have group purchasing organizations that collaborate (though admittedly, there’s room for increased collaboration among our groups). But even if your state doesn’t have the equivalent of VHEPC, Pavilion (formerly CoProcure) makes collaborative agreements like ours available to empower others to leverage collective purchasing power.

We’re all in the business of supporting students, so the more we can work together and help each other, the better.


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