With just six employees, no prior clients and no experience in higher education, the University of Akron picked Trust Navigator, LLC to bring "student success coaches" to the campus over a firm that has worked with more than a million students.There are questions surrounding whether TrustNavigator is the right fit for a university that is currently under a microscope after announcing a projected $60 million budget shortfall --- but some of those questions have now been answered after the Devil Strip's Chris Horne examined UA's request for proposal (RFP) seeking success coaches.
, July 27, 2015 the University Board of Trustees approved an $843,000 contract with the newly launched program -- the same day the trustees also approved eliminating 213 jobs, including more than 50 jobs in the Department of Student Success. The University claims it will save $15 million dollars because of the workforce reductions to help meet the challenge of a $40 million to $60 million dollar deficit depending on various reports.
Trust Navigator and InsideTrack were the only companies to respond to UA's RFP -- and there are obvious differences between the two. RFP's were due July 7, 2015 meaning there was less than three weeks for review by the Administration and eventually Trustees.
Trust Navigator has a website which is largely in-progress and lists a few employees, no clients or events. InsideTrack has a more developed website, lists more leadership team members and includes links to stories from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Among those listed as references by Trust Navigator are E. Gordon Gee, the president of West Virginia University, and James E. Bennett, Chief of Stafff to the president of Cleveland State University. InsideTrack declined to provide a list of references until the final step of the due diligence process to "maintain the goodwill of existing clients." InsideTrack also noted it's attorney was working with existing clients to approve release of their names due to confidentiality agreements due to the "quick turnaround time for the RFP."
InsideTrack is a for-profit San Fransico-based company, founded in 2000 which employs more than 300 individuals across the country. It was named one of the "10 most innovative companies in education" by Fast Company. The company reports working with more than a million students "across every type of higher education institution in the country" and discusses its program that provides a mobile app to connect students directly to university and career resources.On the other end, Trust Navigator, a Cleveland-based company, listed no prior clients or higher educational experience. They currently employ only six individuals with plans of hiring 20 success coaches to serve around 4,000 students. They did note that it would be a "heavy workload and most probably stretching the limit of burnout risk."
According to the proposal, Trust Navigator expects that over 75 percent of their success coaches will be UA alumni -- but that's not guaranteed. While that may have been an important element to UA officials, that was just one of 15 factors in the evaluation used to grade the companies. InsideTrack did not make any promises to hire UA graduates.
Research and citations were included in InsideTrack's proposal to show evidence of success and the company's growth within a 15 year period. Trust Navigator was unable to provide similar results because they have yet to officially launch their program.
InsideTrack's standard outreach program for 4,000 students was nearly double the cost of Trust Navigator, with a price tag of $1.66 million. That factor alone was weighted 10 times more than any other criteria that was graded based on UA's 1200 point scale.
Trust Navigator outscored InsideTrack on 9 out of the 15 criteria analyzed by UA officials. Final score: Trust Navigator - 680. InsideTrack - 360. Or, put another way, a company with no track record had double the evaluation score than a company with 15 years experience and a national track record.
If in fact cost and hiring a local company that employs UA graduates were deciding factors, the question still remains as to how the university can afford the financial risk of working with a pilot program with no prior experience or proven results?