CORVALLIS - Oregon State University has reached an agreement with zUniversity.com to create a customized Internet portal site that will link users with information, commerce and entertainment, while providing new revenue for OSU from the world of e-commerce.
With the agreement, Oregon State becomes the first public university in Oregon to join the growing e-commerce trend.
"We've been looking for new ways of doing business and new ways of generating revenue, but what sold us on zUniversity.com was the added value they offered," said Curt Pederson, vice provost for Information Services at OSU. "Students at other universities are raving about the services that go along with the deal, from free website space to event and calendar scheduling."
The site, scheduled to be launched in September, will be aimed at OSU students, staff, faculty, alumni and friends. It will feature news about campus events, athletics, alumni, and university programs, research and people, and will provide convenient links to some of the Internet's most popular sites.
"It's like having our own customized Yahoo site," Pederson said.
And, of course, there is the e-commerce angle. Users can shop for anything from OSU sweatshirts to video cameras to airline tickets. For every item sold, the university will receive 50 percent of the proceeds from the site.
OSU also will get a percentage from provider services and other signups, advertising and sponsorships, and the amount of "traffic" generated. Initially, the income is expected to be modest - in the $100,000 a year range - but that could increase to as much as $500,000 to $1 million annually within five years, Pederson said.
Some 60 other universities across the U.S. have similar agreements with zUniversity.com, but the OSU contract will be unique, said W. Grant Gregory, chairman and CEO of zUniversity.com.
"We are going to work closely with local merchants to give them access to the site," Gregory said. "Our goal is not to compete against local merchants, but to collaborate with them. They are an important part of the OSU culture and we look forward to teaming up with them."
Other universities that have partnered with zUniversity.com include Florida State University, the University of Nebraska, Kansas State University and Arizona State University.
OSU will be one of only a handful of universities, however, that will coordinate the activities of its alumni association, athletic department, and overall university through one site, Pederson said.
Dwayne Foley, executive director of the OSU Alumni Association, said the idea of the site is to create a sort of "landing spot" for people coming onto the university's web site.
"You put a lot of services on the front page, and from there offer easy navigation to the most popular university sites available," Foley said. "The idea is to grab a lot of eyeballs, to make it attractive to as many people as possible. It is a way to get alumni and friends better connected to the university."
Bob De Carolis, senior associate athletic director for OSU, said the university's Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has had a shopping portal, but received no revenue from it. Not only will that change, he pointed out, but the coordinated efforts of the university's central administration, the athletic department and the alumni association should bring in more people.
"Getting three main players on one team creates a dynamic that links the entire OSU community," De Carolis said. "It should really leverage the number of visitors to the site."
Gregory, who helps coordinate outreach efforts for zUniversity.com, said the creation of a "dot-com" presence doesn't jeopardize the non-profit status of universities, nor does it change their basic mission.
"What we've found is that going the e-commerce route reinforces the brand of the university through the web," he said. "The portal provides a daily interactive channel of communication, and it can broaden a university's constituency by providing a global connection."
What it boils down to, Pederson said, is making an e-commerce site that reflects the ideals of the university.
"One value that we've insisted upon is that the site cannot be about blatant commercialism," he said. "It must have additional benefits for our students, faculty, alumni and friends. The site will be customized for OSU and the university will have a lot of power in controlling the vendors who will be allowed to participate.
"It's been said that universities need to be more entrepreneurial," Pederson said. "We're doing just that."