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Alliances bring national buying power

Consortia divide into chapters focused on specific cost-sharing services
University Business, May 2016

The new higher education alliances cropping up are not just of the regional variety.

A group of private colleges and universities created a consortium in fall 2015 to negotiate better deals on enterprise resource planning systems, which can account for up to 4 percent of an institution’s entire annual budget. The Higher Education Systems and Services Consortium (HESS) now has 65 members located in 15 states.

“We really need to be able to control our costs better and try to find efficiencies among institutions,” says Keith Fowlkes, chief information officer at Centre College in Kentucky and one of the consortium’s original organizers. “We’re in a difficult situation, and we felt we could come together and work with the major ERP vendors that we all use.”

Many national consortia have divided themselves into smaller regional chapters or subgroups focusing on particular cost-sharing services.

For example, members of HESS have formed cohort groups that are each negotiating with a particular ERP vendor to command better deals. Cohort leaders will negotiate the price annually with the vendor for the institutions that are customers of the company, Fowlkes says.

Another national alliance, the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, was launched in 2000 and now has 18 regional chapters around the country that offer information on job opportunities in higher education, nonprofits and corporations across the country. Faculty can use the HERC website to help a spouse or partner find a position near the college or university where they are being recruited.

The consortium’s newest chapter is the Greater Iowa Regional HERC, which held its kickoff event this March. The state’s three public universities organized the chapter because of the recruiting difficulty that stems from the fact that many of the colleges and universities in Iowa are not located in metropolitan areas.

“It’s always a challenge to be able to identify potential positions for a spouse or partner when we’re recruiting a faculty member,” says Kevin Kregel, associate provost for faculty at The University of Iowa. “We have fewer options, so this regional consortium should help us create a strong network to collaborate with across the area.”

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