Regents to pay firm up to $91,000 for 'needs assessment' for degrees in Des Moines area

Analysis 'complicated by the recent acquisition of the AIB campus'

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Even with a new “Regents Resource Center” on track to debut in Des Moines later this year, the state Board of Regents has agreed to pay up to $91,435 for a firm to assess the need for one.

As part of the study — which the board initiated after Des Moines-based AIB College of Business last year announced plans to gift its $21.55 million campus to the University of Iowa — MGT of America, Inc., which the Regents have used on past projects, will evaluate the current and long-term demand for degree programs in the Des Moines area.

“The board further requests an objective and independent analysis of potential locations,” according to the MGT proposal. “This facet of the study is complicated by the recent acquisition of the AIB campus in Des Moines by the University of Iowa.”

The Board of Regents solicited proposals for its “higher education needs assessment for the Des Moines Metro Area” in September — nine months after AIB College of Business officials announced plans to gift its 20-acre, 95-year-old campus to UI.

AIB and UI officials initially said they envisioned the Des Moines property becoming a second UI campus and AIB students becoming UI students. But those plans quickly morphed, and the board days later said AIB would become a regents’ center instead.

AIB is on track to close June 30, and UI students in the fall could pursue several degrees on the former AIB campus, including bachelor’s degrees in social work, sports and recreation management, and enterprise leadership.

UI also is considering using the property for interdisciplinary living — like for students training in Des Moines through the UI colleges of medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, and public health.

“To the degree the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University wish to use this space for their academic programs in fall 2016, it is encouraged and welcomed,” according to Board of Regents documents.

But the needs assessment and evaluation of optimal locations opens the door for a possible sale of the property — even though AIB officials originally said they wanted the campus to move forward as an academic institution.

According to an AIB gift agreement recently approved by the Board of Regents, any proceeds of a sale would be used for student financial aid or for continued support of Des Moines area academic programming.

The board said the upcoming needs assessment should gather input on programming and location options from stakeholders like current and prospective students in and around Des Moines. And MGT said it plans also to consult university administrators, local employers, industry experts, economic development entities, and state and local officials.

“Given the transition of the AIB campus by the University of Iowa as a Regents Resource Center, we will deliver an objective and independent review of the most appropriate location(s) to best meet identified needs,” according to MGT’s proposal.

Of the 11 firms who responded to the board’s request for proposals, materials submitted by seven of the companies were made public this week. The other four could be made public next week, according to board spokesman Josh Lehman, but the board has to first notify those groups because they requested their proposals not be made public for proprietary reasons.

Of the proposals released to date, MGT’s proposed $91,435 cost was the third-highest — with two firms proposing steeper project costs and four firms projecting costs lower than MGT.

Lehman said board policy doesn’t require regents to choose the lowest bidder for professional service agreements.

“Price is but one factor in selecting a firm,” he said, citing the portion of board policy that stipulates, “Selection of a professional service provider shall be based on a variety of criteria including, but not limited to, demonstrated competence, knowledge, references, and unique qualifications to perform the services, in addition to offering a fair and reasonable price that is consistent with current market conditions.”

According to the board’s contract with Tallahassee, Fla.-based MGT, it could ask the firm to perform additional services beyond its initial contract — like evaluating the financial impact of their initial findings. If that occurs, the board would come to a separate agreement outlining new professional fees and reimbursable expenses.

Per the initial contract, MGT is not to exceed $91,435 for both professional fees and reimbursable expenses. Such expenses include travel expenses, like airfare, rental cars, and shuttles; daily expenses, like lodging and meals; and other expenses, like printing and telecommunication costs.

MGT is scheduled to give an update on the needs assessment during the board’s next meeting Feb. 24 and 25, according to the contract. The firm will present its detailed findings during the board’s April 20-21 meeting.

According to its proposal, MGT has years of experience conducting similar studies for colleges and universities looking at the feasibility of expanding. It has a long history of working with Iowa’s Board of Regents, according to its proposal, beginning with a “management audit of state universities and special schools” for the board in 1987.

MGT has been involved in six state Board of Regents projects since, including a feasibility study for a graduate study center in Council Bluffs in 1990, a review of purchasing operations and policies in 1992, an operational review of the central office of the Board of Regents in 1996, and most recently an organizational review of the regents’ public universities in 2001 and 2002.

MGT also worked with Kirkwood Community College in 2008 and the Iowa Valley Community College in November 2015.

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