Outsourcing infographic

NPEC Report on the IPEDS Human Resources Survey

IEHE’s Kristina Powers is pleased to have been invited to write and author the recently published white paper by the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative (NPEC) titled Examining Current Institutional Outsourcing Practices and the IPEDS Human Resources Survey Component. The NPEC Report on the IPEDS Human Resources Survey was commissioned to examine the current landscape of institutional outsourcing as it relates to the IPEDS-HR survey.

Faculty and Staff Counted in the IPEDS Human Resources Survey

How many faculty and staff work to serve the institution and its students? This seems like a simple question, but it currently cannot be answered through IPEDS data due to institutions’ varying use of outsourcing and part-time faculty. It is with this backdrop that NPEC sought to understand current outsourcing and part-time faculty-use practices as they relate to the IPEDS-HR survey through this paper. The information gathered will assist in identifying gaps in the existing IPEDS-HR collection.

Trends over the past decade show that institutions are using outsourced services and other cost reduction strategies that affect staffing patterns and employment practices for both instructional and non-instructional staff, and many are considering additional use of such practices. Outsourcing is “a form of privatization that generally refers to a higher education institution’s decision to contract with an external organization to provide a traditional campus function or service. The contractor either takes over the task of compensating and managing the employees of the university, paying the group according to its standards, or replaces the university employees with its own staff” (Phipps & Merisotis, 2005, p. 1).

Over the last 50 years, use of adjuncts has grown approximately 20% to 50% (Brennan & Magness, 2018). While rates vary by sector and Carnegie Classification, the percentage of part-time faculty has increased—even when excluding for-profit institutions (American Institutes for Research, 2017; Brennan & Magness, 2018). Part-time faculty are often utilized to solve a variety of problems (e.g., unanticipated enrollments, reduced budgets) and have been commonplace at colleges and universities for decades (Hurlburt & McGarrah, 2016; Kezar, 2014).

Many often think of adjunct faculty as teaching temporarily—perhaps a single semester or year. The growing cadre of part-time faculty, however, often serve for multiple semesters or years and teach at multiple institutions simultaneously. Long-term use of part-time faculty has led institutions to think creatively about every aspect of the institution’s costs, which has even led to outsourcing some instruction.

Research Questions

To better understand these evolving trends and potential impacts on IPEDS data collection and use, NPEC commissioned a paper to learn more about how institutions are organizing their staffing patterns and practices. The IPEDS-HR survey component historically, and currently, collects a wealth of data on staffing patterns and practices. However, information on outsourcing contracts and funding for those efforts are not included in the collection process.The research for the paper focused on four questions:

  1. What pressures drive IPEDS institutions to create alternative staffing structures with their staffing patterns and practices and to seek out HR-related cost savings?

  2. To what extent are institutions outsourcing services?

  3. What role does the utilization of part-time faculty play in institutional cost-saving efforts, and how is that role expected to change in the future?

  4. What data elements should be collected?

About the Methodology

The research methodology included an environmental scan (including a literature review), interviews with stakeholders, analysis of IPEDS data and examination of reports and publications to identify and illustrate gaps, inconsistencies, and measurement errors in the data currently collected by IPEDS. In the white paper, Kristina outlined some of the reasons why institutions choose a variety of outsourcing options, what functions are commonly outsourced, and the ways that these decisions can suppress information about an institution’s employment/staffing data within the IPEDS system.

What is Outsourcing?

The term “outsourcing” is often used interchangeably with other similar terms in the literature, specifically: consulting and public-private partnership (P3). However, these terms have distinct meanings and can be thought of as a continuum of the institution–service provider relationship. The graphic below shows the decision-making continuum used by senior leaders when determining the appropriate staffing and service structure for accomplishing projects.

 

Outsourcing infographic created by IEHE to better help understand the outsourcing types described in the NPEC Report on IPEDS Human Resources Survey.

  • Use of In-house/existing and available employees is the first option considered because employee salaries are already encumbered. Reallocating institutional staff responsibilities to participate in new survey requests is an example of an in-house approach.
  • Consulting includes one-time or short-term engagements to leverage additional expertise that is needed temporarily. For example, contracting with an external firm to analyze and make recommendations about the institution’s accreditation preparation process could be considered a consulting effort.
  • Outsourcing includes temporary or permanent utilization of expertise from an outside organization to perform a specific set of tasks. Hiring a company to perform the institution’s IPEDS reporting functions is an example of outsourcing.
  • Public-Private Partnership (P3) is a more complex version of outsourcing. It often involves an extended (e.g., decades-long) timeframe and large infrastructure commitment from the private partner. Both parties reap benefits from the partnership that go beyond traditional fee-for-service advantages. For example, partnering with a private organization to build, maintain, and enhance the institution’s predictive-analytics systems is considered a P3 arrangement.

For the purposes of the white paper, the term “outsourcing” includes consulting, outsourcing, and P3s.

About the Recommendations

Based on her research, Kristina proposed the following recommendations:

  1. If outsourcing information is collected, create a clear definition of outsourcing.

The term “outsourcing” is often used interchangeably with other similar terms in the literature, specifically consulting and public-private partnership (P3). However, these terms have distinct definitions. They are better thought of as a continuum of the institution–service provider relationship used by senior leaders when determining the appropriate staffing and service structure for accomplishing projects. Points along the continuum include:

    • In-house use of existing and available employees is usually the first option considered because employee salaries are already encumbered.
    • Consulting involves one-time or short-term engagements to leverage additional expertise that is needed temporarily.
    • Outsourcing includes temporary or permanent utilization of expertise from an outside organization to perform a specific set of tasks.
    • Public-Private Partnership (P3) is a more complex version of outsourcing. It often involves an extended (e.g., decades) timeframe and large infrastructure commitment from the private partner. Usually, both parties benefit from the partnership.
  1. Review the edit flags.

Opportunities to collect existing information on outsourcing and edit flags could be leveraged through a review of the responses to edit flags. A sample edit flag is discussed and shown. Other edit flags could exist and provide further insights into outsourcing.

  1. If outsourcing information is collected, develop resource guides.

If outsourcing data are to be collected, resource guides should be provided to IPEDS keyholders and users to identify outsourcing information within their institutions. One potential resource is an institution’s U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) E-App, an online application that houses important information on the institution’s use of third-party servicers for financial aid. This document can typically be obtained from the financial aid office or finance officer. ED requires that all third parties participating in any Title IV or HEA program be registered and comply with eligibility requirements.

  1. If outsourcing information is collected, consider options on the IPEDS Finance survey.

There was considerable interest from interviewees regarding collecting IPEDS outsourcing information and data. A number of interviewees suggested that the information may be most closely aligned with the IPEDS Finance survey. In particular, interviewees noted that the chief finance officer would likely be most knowledgeable about outsourcing dollars throughout the entire institution. Additionally, outsourcing often encompasses more than human resources (e.g., equipment, travel, technology, etc.). So, reporting on the entire outsourced contract rather than a subset of the outsourced service (e.g., human resources) may be a lesser burden.

  1. Consider collecting information on part-time faculty, regardless of funding source.

No definition currently exists for part-time faculty in the IPEDS Glossary or IPEDS survey materials. Variation between states and institutions, as well as differences within institutions, can exist for part-time faculty definitions. This makes a one-size-fits-all definition more challenging. However, greater clarity is needed regarding the number of part-time faculty who are utilized, regardless of funding source. This would allow for a better understanding of the composition of instructors.

NPEC Report on IPEDS Human Resources  – Accessing the Report

The IEHE engaged in this this work to advance the knowledge of the impacts and opportunities of IPEDS’s current data collection parameters. Hopefully, these results will future data collection changes. The full paper Examining Current Institutional Outsourcing Practices and the IPEDS Human Resources Survey Component  was one of 4 papers commissioned by NPEC and released April 2020.

Want to Learn More?

Reach out to the IEHE for more information about our work and research.

 

 




The Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education (IEHE) innovates and improves higher education standards through our strategic research, publicly available resources, and partnerships with colleges and universities. We provide extensive expertise on data strategy, IPEDS, institutional research and student success to drive institutional effectiveness.