In certain instances, housing and residence life professionals have turned to outside specialists to help deliver various services and goods to our students. One of the most commonly used words to describe this activity is the term “outsourcing”. Housing and Residence Life programs turn to outsourcing services for a variety of reasons. Small, medium, and large residential programs use outsourcing to some extent to help deliver services and goods to our resident populations.
Listed in the following are some typical outsourced services and goods on college campuses:
TYPES OF OUTSOURCING-General
|Safety Services||Fund Raising|
|Financial Services||Academic Services|
TYPES OF OUTSOURCING- Specific to Housing/Res Life
|New Construction||Cable TV|
|Architectural/Engineering Services||Data/Information Services|
|Maintenance to include: roofing, painting, glass replacement, HVAC replacement||Privatized housing – both existing and new residences|
|Laundry/Dry Cleaning||Safety to include fire, security, etc.|
|Vending||Personnel Services/Executive Searches|
|Telephone – local and long distance||Management Services|
Advantages of Outsourcing
- Guaranteed commissions-This option is attractive to financial planners and budget managers who do not have to rely on a cost center to generate a profit. Regardless of the cash flow an outsourced company or business will return a minimum amount of negotiated revenue to your program.
- Cost/Benefits-Many companies and businesses specialize in their service or product line. For example, a company whose major service line is providing soft drink beverages in vending machines has volume-buying power and personnel to install, maintain, and replenish the beverages much easier than an individual housing and residence life program could. To accomplish that task or service “in-house” would require hiring one or more staff, buying inventory, purchasing delivery vehicles, securing storage and the like. For many decision makers it is much easier to outsource than to perform this service within.
- Specialty-When residential life and housing programs outsource to companies whose primary focus is a particular product or service; typically what is inherent with that decision is just that. A good analogy would be a homeowner hiring various fix-it persons to repair problems in their home. If one were to repair leaking faucets in a house, one would most preferably seek out a plumber, not hire for example a skilled carpenter or electrician. You want that company or business to know their product or service inside and out.
- Expertise and Professionalism-More colleges and universities have been turning to executive searches to replace selected vacancies on their respective campuses. Increasingly, these firms have the ability to conduct confidential searches and entice professionals to consider allowing their name to be placed in a candidate pool. Some professionals would not have either known of the vacancy nor would they have been inclined to pursue the vacancy on their own.
These are just a few of the advantages. Outsourcing is not the answer to the entire decision dilemma a residence life professional must make. There are disadvantages.
- Perceived loss of quality and control-Perhaps this is the greatest concern for administrators considering outsourcing some of their activities and services. The notion that we can only do this best ourselves has to be overcome. The perspective might be that if a given function reports directly to the residence life staff member, priority on workflow and projects are determined in-house.
- Difficulty of reversing the decision to outsource-This is noticeable especially in the areas of outsourcing dining services. Very few campuses are able to transition from a contracted food service provider to self-operated without incurring large expenditures for equipment, inventory, and staffing. The start-up costs can be staggering.
- Lack of competition-In certain market areas some residence life and housing programs are by default through the competitive bidding process, limited to just one acceptable bid. In a truly high competition environment, the administrator is able to leverage commissions and incentives to make the decision to outsource a fiscally sound one.
These are just three examples of the disadvantages of outsourcing. Many residence life and housing programs are willing to sacrifice the disadvantages for the advantages. As with many decisions, the trade-offs need to be evaluated campus to campus and by residence life and housing programs on the merits of each individual activity.
The decision to outsource or not truly rests with the administrators within residence life and housing programs and with other university personnel and frequently the college or university boards. Increasingly, companies have found that in order to do business with colleges and universities, boards must be swayed to make that decision. Boards may be impressed by a donation from the successful bidder toward such things as scholarships, endowments, and investments in the campus infrastructure, etc. In exchange for a major upfront investment in financial resources, these same firms request long-term agreements with the colleges and universities.
Outsourcing works well when both parties are pleased with the objectives. The college or university and their students receive quality goods and services and the company, firm, or business recognizes a profit. When either of these parties does not realize their objectives, the decision to outsource becomes problematic. In the worst case scenario, the company stops doing business or defaults on the contract and the residence life and housing administration is left scrambling for solutions while attempting to continue providing and maintaining good customer service to our resident populations.
Submitted by Patrick Bradley, Director of University Housing, Central Missouri State University