Universities and other higher education and research institutions share many of the same attributes as medium to large commercial organizations: both have sizeable numbers of employees (a significant number of whom travel domestically and internationally), teams that are often geographically dispersed (especially at institutions with multiple campuses), and, of course budgets that are closely controlled.

However, unlike commercial organizations, whose expenses are funded by operating budgets, higher education institutions’ faculty and research members’ travel and expenses are often funded by grants and scholarships. These funding sources often have a variety of different requirements for how they can be used, and therefore require specific reporting regulations for expenses.

As a result, in addition to the challenges that any commercial organization needs to overcome in order to effectively maintain control of individuals’ expenses, higher education institutions must also address several unique issues that they face as a result of their funding. These are rooted both in the need for compliance with grants’ covenants, as well as a greater emphasis on cost control and expense allocation than that of many for-profit organizations.

Examples of these challenges include per diem regulations and aligning project schedule and budget within start and stop dates, as well as critical issues such as ongoing fund tracking and management and, of course, avoiding errors in encumbrances, budget or expenditures.

As a result of this increased scrutiny, higher education institutions’ expense reporting processes can often be more complex than those for similarly-sized companies, and as a result, will require specialized solutions to ensure they can stay in compliance with grant regulations. It’s clear that spreadsheets or home-baked custom expense applications simply don’t have the depth of capabilities needed to perform the duties required.

Related: Common Pitfalls of Manual Expense Systems

While moving to a specialized expense solution is an essential step, not every expense management system on the market will be able to handle the increased complexity that many colleges and universities require. Although most systems will have international expense capabilities and support for mobile devices, not all will able to perform some of the unique functionality required in higher education expense management. As a result, procurement teams need to get a clear view on the issues that their institutions face, as well as how they can benefit from expense automation, and what they need to look for in an expense solution.

For more information on the specifics of how expense management solutions can support colleges and universities, including some of the unique challenges faced, and how these can be addressed, take a look at the ebook – Expense Management for Higher Education - The Challenges and Solution for Grants, Athletic Teams and Procurement.


Our choice of Chrome River EXPENSE was made in part due to the very user-friendly interface, easy configurability, and the clear commitment to impactful customer service – all aspects in which Chrome River was the clear winner. While Chrome River is not as large as some of the other vendors we considered, we found that to be a benefit and our due diligence showed that it could support us as well as any large players in the space, along with a personalized level of customer care. Sally Abella, Director of Corporate Travel Harman International
We are excited to be able to enforce much more stringent compliance to our expense guidelines and significantly enhance our expense reporting and analytics. By automating these processes, we will be able to free up AP time formerly spent on manual administrative tasks, and enhance the role by being much more strategic. Ben Zastrow Zelle