Purchasing Cooperative for Colleges Looks to E-Commerce to Bolster Business

It is the largest buying cooperative in higher education, with one-third of all colleges in the United States as members. It is 66 years old, and is the No. 1 customer of Steelcase, the world's largest manufacturer of office furniture.

But many college officials have never heard of the Educational and Institutional Cooperative Service, or E&I, as it is commonly called. The cooperative did $223-million worth of purchasing in 1999 -- but that still accounts for less than one-half of