At every college and university in the United States, students need to eat and buy books, buildings must be cleaned, and records must be kept. But who should be doing those things? Should a school provide those services with its staff because it knows its clientele best and has the greatest incentive to offer the best? Or should administrators seek outside specialists who have more expertise in specific fields and can provide services more efficiently?
There is no pat answer that will fit the needs of every higher-education institution. The decision to outsource or self-operate depends on scores of factors — the history and tradition at a school, the management philosophy of top administrators, the specific talents and experience of people working for a college, a university's financial condition, the availability of workers, or the aggressive marketing efforts of contractors.
Some schools may decide to outsource services so administrators can focus more attention on their academic mission instead of areas in which they have less interest and knowledge. Some may seek to privatize a few services; others may seek outsourcing for as many services as they can. Whatever path a college or university takes, it should pursue the option that offers the most efficient and effective services.
“There are no two campuses exactly alike,” says Diane Hardy, director of dining services at the University of Richmond (Va.) and president of the National Association of College & University Food Services. “There is no formula. It really boils down to the particular needs of an individual school.”