What Is a Group Purchasing Organization in Education?

Procurement in education is constantly evolving. Lately, there’s been increased pressure to reduce costs and meet more stringent social responsibility and financial governance policies. Many procurement teams are being forced to do more with less due to downsizing or increased volume—all while dealing with budget constraints and significant price volatility.

Inflation is taking a toll, and everything seems more expensive, which means procurement teams must think strategically and carefully before spending. Not only do procurement teams have to get optimal pricing, but they also have to worry about supply chain concerns and availability. The job has gotten significantly more challenging in the last few years.

To overcome these challenges, schools, colleges, and universities are leveraging group purchasing organizations (GPOs) to broaden their reach, streamline procurement, and save money. In this article, we answer the question “What is an education group purchasing organization?” and explain the benefits of using a GPO.

What Is a Group Purchasing Organization for Education?

A group purchasing organization negotiates contracts on behalf of its members, using the power of collective buying to get better pricing and more favorable terms. Because of the volume of goods and services purchased by members, GPOs tend to attract more competitive bids, giving educational institutions access to a broader pool of suppliers.

Most GPOs work across industries and charge a membership fee to join the collective. E&I Cooperative Services works differently. As a non-profit cooperative, there is no fee to join. Moreover, E&I Cooperative Services is exclusively focused on the education sector, with a deep understanding of the unique needs of academic institutions.

Benefits of GPOs for Education

Some of the key benefits of group purchasing organizations include:

  • Cost Savings: Leveraging bulk buying power to negotiate discounted pricing, often for significant savings.
  • Efficiency: Consolidating sourcing and contracting processes so schools can reduce staff time spent on procurement activities, driving down administrative costs.
  • Contract Expertise: Conducting competitive solicitation to ensure compliance and deliver maximum value.
  • Spend Analysis: Analyzing overall spend patterns across member institutions to identify savings
  • Supplier Diversity: Opening access to certified diverse and small business suppliers.
  • Sustainability: Integrating sustainability criteria on contracts to help schools meet environmental goals.

Some GPOs provide eProcurement platforms and purchasing cards to streamline purchasing.

How GPOs Work

GPOs work in much the same way procurement teams would work in an educational institution to source suppliers and negotiate terms.

Competitively Bid Agreements

GPOs issue RFPs/RFQs, evaluate supplier responses, and develop negotiation strategies. This competitive solicitation approach commands significant attention. It is not unusual to have hundreds of suppliers respond due to the potential volume of sales, resulting in best-in-class pricing.

Wide Range of Products/Services Covered

Group purchasing organizations work on behalf of their members, tailoring requests to group needs. They also negotiate across a range of industries to provide multiple options. This eliminates the need for schools to source and manage contracts across every area, such as:

  • Athletics
  • Facilities and MRO
  • Financial Services
  • Food and Food Services
  • Information Technology
  • Logistics and Travel
  • Office and Classroom, Interiors
  • Professional, Consulting, and Administrative Services
  • Research and Scientific

GPOs can provide multiple options within categories as well, including both goods and services.

Secure Terms and Conditions

Besides providing discounted pricing, GPOs leverage their scale to negotiate terms and conditions beneficial to buyers. Some contracts will have more flexible billing or payment options, expedited delivery guarantees, expanded service coverage, or extended warranty periods.

Some contracts negotiated by E&I Cooperative Services include rebates or additional incentives for members based on utilization.

Make Agreements Available to Members

Once awarded, contracts are available to members. Schools can then directly purchase off these contracts knowing they have been negotiated in their favor.

Choose E&I Cooperative Services

E&I Cooperative Services offers members a broad selection of competitively solicited cooperative agreements for education, guidance from experienced education procurement specialists, and deep insight to save time and money. Its 6,000 members benefit from significant cost reductions in purchasing and share in profits in the form of patronage rebates at the end of the year.

Membership is free and there is no obligation or minimum purchasing requirements.

E&I Cooperative Services is the only member-owned, non-profit cooperative and group purchasing organization for education that focuses exclusively on the education sector.

Streamline your education procurement today. Contact E&I Cooperative Services today to learn about the benefits of becoming a member.


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