Fox News and MSNBC would have been disappointed, but four professionals actually discussed the often-dicey relationship between higher education and outside vendors on Higher Ed Live with nary an insult, shouting match nor discouraging word. Despite a lack of sensationalism, the result provided a lot of substance, room for understanding and even common ground on what makes for a good college-vendor partnership.
It all begin with my blog post expressing frustration over apps vendors “fishing with shiny objects,” or rooting around trying to find buyers for products that have more cool factor than actual benefit to our institution or our students. That brought an interesting rebuttal comment from Brent Grinna of EverTrue, a company that builds apps to meet an institution’s missions and goals. Brent eloquently noted that the bad past relationships of colleges and vendors made it hard for startups to get traction in such a competitive environment. Then old friend Kyle Judah of RecoVend, a startup whose goal is to help colleges find worthy vendor partners, provided additional perspective on how problems lie on both sides of the vendor-college relationship. The whole debate was so juicy I pitched it to Seth Odell, who happily invited us all to probe the issue on his Higher Ed Live online talk show.
If you saw it live or watch the replay, you’ll see how much common ground reasoned people can find when engaged in productive dialogue. I’m glad Brent contributed his viewpoint because it’s helpful and humbling to hear another side of the story and remind us never to oversimplify anything. We noted that vendors who excel and constantly help us try to better serve our campus and our students are really more like partners, and credited the likes of readMedia and Kevin Prentiss of Red Rover.
And it is, of course, wrong to cost all blame on outside forces. I keep a copy of John G. Saxe’s poem The Blind Men and the Elephant and realize how many entities within colleges don’t see the whole picture. Encased in silos with limited vision, they feel the tusk and sense a spear, feel the leg and imagine a tree, feel the ear and envision a fan. And miss the elephant in the room, which is that only by working together can colleges best serve their students.
And if you can’t work together, there’s most definitely not any app to solve it.