EVALUATING AN EXTERNAL PARTNER
External partners can provide boosts in quality, capacity and enrollment numbers for universities’ online programs. However, decision makers must be diligent in choosing who to partner with and examining which services are most efficiently outsourced. A lack of comprehensive preparation can lead to wasted resources, unnecessary costs and stagnant enrollments.
In this article, Deb Gearhart, vice provost for e-learning and strategic partnerships at Ohio University, offers:
- A 5-minute podcast challenging you to rethink the way you approach vendor partnerships
- A checklist of 5 mistakes to avoid when evaluating potential vendor partners
Podcast: Rethinking Vendor Partnerships
Checklist: 5 Mistakes to Avoid
When developing a vendor partnership to help deliver your online program, these items are too commonly overlooked:
MISTAKE #1. NOT BRINGING THE RIGHT PLAYERS TO THE PROCESS.
Identify the key stakeholders early on. Ensure that all areas of the University that will touch your online program and its students are represented in both the planning and the evaluation of the partner vendor. This would include:
- The academic program
- The admissions office
- The office of information technology
- The registrar
- The bursar
- Financial aid
- Other student-related services
- Legal services
- Your procurement office
Always work through your procurement office.
MISTAKE #2. NOT CONSIDERING YOUR BUDGET.
What are the costs to provide the services within your institution, compared to the expenses of bringing in a vendor partner?
Online education is an upfront investment with costs recouped from enrollment. When reviewing vendors, be sure to gain a clear understanding of what all the costs for the partnership will be. That includes costs associated with service agreements, training, software upgrades, etc.
MISTAKE #3. NOT FACTORING VENDOR SELECTION INTO YOUR TIMELINE.
The process of selecting a partner vendor takes time. Build that process into your timeline for developing and delivering your online program.
How soon do you want to have your courses developed and your online program ready for admission? This question is really important — in two ways.
- First, you will most likely have to go through an RFP process for a contract — which will involve time and expense. The RFP process must be built into your timeline.
- Second, you need to be very frank with your potential partner vendors on your expectations concerning the timeline for starting the program. You need to be able to evaluate whether they can meet your expectations.
MISTAKE #4. NEGLECTING TO INVESTIGATE INSTITUTIONAL, STATE, AND FEDERAL REGULATIONS.
This is critical. Do you have a grasp on all of the regulations that will affect your partnership?
- What are your institution’s expectations and internal policies or regulations regarding using a vendor for these services?
- If you represent a public institution, most states have contract bidding laws that can dictate the length of the contract.
- Is your institution authorized to provide online learning in each state that the vendor would like to market your program to?
MISTAKE #5. NOT FULLY CONSIDERING WHAT SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN THE CONTRACT.
Make sure that you include training, upgrades, and services in your contract, as part of the package. Yes, during the contract negotiation you are trying to build a good partneship with your vendor–but you, as the client, should make sure that all of your needs are met.