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    What the US Department of Education’s Guidance Means for Higher Ed Procurement Teams

    Let’s be honest … it’s a confusing time to be in higher education. As the Department of Education, along with state education departments around the country, begin  issuing recommendations for return to school plans, procurement teams are left asking what’s next for them. How do you prepare your school for a full or partial return, and what do you do if classes are being held entirely online? Each situation is unique, and made more complicated by day-to-day changes.

    Each school is left making complex decisions, and the impacts on procurement planning are constant. For some schools, this means restructuring entirely, or even merging with other schools, as in the case of the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. Here, we provide recommendations from conversations with our customers on how to respond to the changing return to school processes.


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    Full return to campus

    The common refrain from the US Department of Education is that students must be able to return to schools when classes resume in the fall. Some states have issued similar orders for their public universities. So if your college or university is returning to campus to resume classes as usual, how can the purchasing team prepare? Aside from the obvious supplies like hand sanitizer and face masks, what do schools need to consider?


    • Athletics is one of the biggest questions for many schools right now. Has your school, conference, or state made a decision about sports? Will you need to update or cancel contracts for athletic gear, medical supplies and facilities upkeep? The Big Ten Conference recently announced that, if sports are to happen in the fall, they will only happen within conference, which dramatically changes travel and lodging plans for seven varsity sports.
    • Sanitation is obviously essential right now. Make sure you’re prepared to negotiate large-volume contracts for increased cleaning needs, including both supplies and services.
    • Many schools are recommending or requiring sneeze guards for offices and other areas where staff will come into contact with large numbers of students.
    • Self-serve dining areas like salad bars and buffets will no longer be viable in most locations. Is your campus replacing them with single-serve portions or boxed meals? If so, you’ll have to source the appropriate boxes or take-out containers to make sure your students can eat safely.
    • Don’t forget social distance markers and barriers for queue areas to keep students six feet apart when needed.

    Hybrid approaches

    Many schools have already announced that they’re taking a hybrid approach in the fall. Some classes will be allowed to meet on campus, while others will take place exclusively online. Many schools are focused on bringing back students in technical programs, hard sciences, or other fields that require a specific learning environment and can’t be completed online.

    Schools taking a hybrid approach face many of the same considerations as those returning in full. They’ll need to ensure clean, safe and healthy learning spaces for students and staff, but each situation is a little bit different. Here are some additional needs to consider:

    • Look at food contracts. Your school may only be serving a fraction of the student body per day, so adjust volumes of food, paper and plasticware, and other cafeteria goods to see where you can prevent over-ordering.
    • Consider which on-campus facilities will be open. Research labs may still be functioning at full capacity (NACUBO says 81% of those surveyed would have fully functioning labs) while dorms may be partially vacant and on-campus cafes might be closed or work reduced hours. Make sure you’re allocating resources appropriately, and that it’s reflected in your contracts.
    • Plan ahead for understaffed operations. Students who would normally hold term-time jobs might not be on campus to work them, leaving high vacancies. This can have trickle down impacts on what supplies and services you may need to purchase instead.
    • Some schools are having to revise student handbooks and honor codes with information about the virus, the university’s policies, and expected compliance. For students off campus, the procurement team will need to contract with an electronic signature provider to collect digital signatures.

    Fully remote learning

    Many schools, including multiple Ivy League universities, have announced that classes will be entirely virtual come the fall semester. No matter the size of your student body, there are some elements you’ll want to look at to make sure you’re saving money where you can:

    • Reevaluate your technology contracts. Many schools rushed into contracts with telecom providers in a moment of desperation. Now that you have more time to shop around and negotiate, revisit your capacity and costs for virtual learning tools.
    • Begin looking at resource subscriptions for students. Without access to physical libraries and research facilities, students may need additional memberships to journals and catalogs. Get out ahead of this need so you have time to negotiate rates or group purchases for discounts.
    • Don’t forget about other software subscriptions for students. Many students rely on campus facilities for multimedia or creative assignments, which will likely increase in a remote setting. When these facilities are closed, students will need access to software licenses to be able to complete these projects.
    • Consider canceling or reducing existing contracts for on-campus needs. Things like maintenance services for classroom buildings, classroom supplies like paper, whiteboard markers, and pencils, or facilities needs like paper towels and toilet paper can be cut back at significant cost savings.
    • Look to save on infrastructure or building updates. With most schools cutting back on services and construction, you may be able to score a deal on revitalization projects or maintenance that you’ve been putting off. Plus, crews can work more quickly when no one else is in the building, which will shorten project timelines and reduce costs.


    Ultimately, each school will need to work based on their individual situation. No two plans are identical, and each must consider school size, budgets, and legal restrictions. But these are some factors to consider as federal and local policies continue to take shape and schools make decisions about their approach this fall.

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