Higher education institutions face increasing pressure to provide high-quality education while controlling costs. One proven strategy is leveraging the power of cooperative agreements for higher education to stretch procurement dollars.
Cooperative agreements allow groups of colleges or universities to combine their requirements for products and services, providing significant benefits.
Without question, cooperative agreements generate substantial savings by aggregating institutional spend. The more institutions participate, the greater the collective purchasing power. Volume discounts and favorable contract terms typically provide a better deal than an individual college or university could secure independently.
Areas commonly covered under cooperative agreements include:
For specialized goods with high unit costs or small annual procurement volumes, cooperative agreements can unlock even deeper savings since vendors pass along reduced overhead expenses in their quotes.
Besides discount pricing, cooperative agreements create tremendous process efficiencies by eliminating redundant tasks. Developing effective solicitations, negotiating contracts, and properly documenting procurement decisions requires specific skill sets and an investment of staff time and resources.
Instead of tackling these complex processes independently, cooperative agreements allow schools to offload these burdens to teams specializing in procurement for higher education.
Cooperative agreements for higher education also expand product choices and suppliers. A cooperative agreement that allows higher education institutions to opt in can be negotiated on behalf of hundreds or thousands of schools, attracting a broader range of vendor interest than individual schools could.
With expanded choice, institutions gain more flexibility to select items that fully meet their performance requirements at the best available price points.
Cooperative agreements also provide intuitive ways for institutions to meet sustainability and social responsibility goals. Many cooperative groups pre-vet supplier commitments as part of their competitive process, identifying businesses owned by minorities, women, veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, and disabled persons. For example, E&I Cooperative Services has a wide range of cooperative agreements available that feature Tier 1 certified diverse suppliers and Tier 2 suppliers who can offer diverse spending solutions as part of their offerings.
Cooperative agreements can also spotlight certified sustainable products, making it easier for procurement teams to fulfill environmental and social missions through routine purchasing decisions.
The regulatory and policy requirements for competitive contract sourcing in public institutions are cumbersome. While these laws and policies strive to ensure fairness, objectivity, and responsible use of funds, navigating their complexity can be time-consuming and expose institutions to compliance audits if missteps occur.
Cooperative agreements enhance compliance by leveraging established best practices for competitive procurement. Since cooperatives conduct their own solicitation processes—developing comprehensive agreements aligned to industry regulations—institutions minimize compliance risk by purchasing via these established contracts.
While cooperative agreements originated from a shared need to maximize budgets and create bulk buying power, these collaborations also deliver benefits extending far beyond cost savings. The culture of cooperation cultivated in pursuing cooperative purchasing agreements brings together diverse parties with different levels of experience.
Procurement leaders can share insights on operational challenges and innovations, acquired from listening to peers and industry experts.
Some procurement teams are concerned that choosing cooperative agreements will cause them to lose control of relationships with suppliers. However, working with a cooperative can do the opposite. Suppliers are more committed to serving higher education institutions knowing they have the backing of a cooperative. This helps develop longer-term relationships.
Higher education faces pressing challenges from many angles—uncertain tuition revenue, public scrutiny of costs, steeper competition for students, and disruptions from online learning alternatives. However, cooperation through strategic partnerships provides schools and universities combined strength to withstand today’s evolving educational environment.
E&I Cooperative Services stands out as the only member-owned non-profit procurement cooperative dedicated to the educational sector. With a membership base of more than 6,000 educational institutions, E&I is committed to empowering its members with data-driven insights for better decision-making.
E&I Cooperative Services has an extensive collection of cooperative purchasing agreements, all of which have been competitively solicited to ensure value and efficiency for its members.
View available cooperative contracts through E&I Cooperative Services.