Dynamic Spend Management Practices in Higher Education: Three Considerations for Returning to Travel This Fall

The COVID-19 pandemic caused global disruption to daily operations at colleges and universities. In response to the seemingly overnight switch to a virtual environment, the financial accommodation for testing and personal protective equipment, and the need to address declining enrollment, higher education leaders have been forced to be more strategic with their expenditures. While travel and expense planning may seem like an element that can easily be reduced to save dollars, it is important for higher education leaders to take into consideration how travel and expense programs factor into their institutional mission and goals.

As we cautiously return to travel, there are a number of considerations in determining how to do so safely and transparently for staff, faculty and students. The halt caused by the global pandemic gave higher education finance leaders room to pause and evaluate their travel programs, emerging with updated policies and procedures that were relevant to the current travel and expense needs. Over the past year or so, higher education procurement and finance leaders were forced to consolidate the rollout of many change management processes, such as spend management updates. These improvements shortened the time required to go live on new technology, and institutions immediately saw the benefits surrounding transparency, adoption, and cost management.

Figuring out how to return to travel may seem like a daunting task for many institutions, but there is a silver lining: travel departments now have had the chance to adapt their communications, policies and standard operating procedures for travel and entertainment before students and faculty returned to campus. Moving forward, this allows leaders to increase engagement and utilization of their systems while also creating more transparency around effective management of operational costs. With these things in mind, the top three ways to prepare your university or college campuses to begin traveling again are:


1. Increase visibility of travel requests and needs

According to the 2021 Global Business Traveler Report, sponsored by the SAP Concur organization, which polled 3,850 business travelers and 700 travel managers across global markets, 96% of respondents say they are willing to travel for business over the next 12 months. However, 52% of travelers say they expect their employers to provide them with the ability to choose direct flights and 41% of respondents say they want the ability to stay in four- to five-star hotels during their business travel. By implementing new pre-trip authorization processes and expense policies, college and university leaders have more visibility from a regulatory requirements perspective. Seeing the associated costs upfront allows leadership to make strategic decisions in support of their travelers while ensuring the institution is spending its funds strategically.


2. Update policy planning and program deployment

The key to traveling post-COVID is to do so safely. Returning to travel means colleges and universities are faced with new challenges and will need to adopt fresh policies that pertain to the issues today and what they may face in the future. By updating policies to be broader and incorporating more specific and flexible standard operating procedures (SOPs), institutions can accommodate post-COVID travel and expenses and remain agile for a future state with whatever restrictions or federal guidelines that may be put in place. For example, updated policy language can drive the adoption of a university’s travel programs. Colleges and universities will benefit from making sure employees understand that preferred booking solutions, vendors and program-specific guidelines have been put in place to keep employees safe. Also, using a university’s services ensures there is visibility into the traveler’s location in the event the traveler becomes in need of support.


3. Plan for the Future

The only constant thing in travel and expense planning is change. From technological advancements and new modes of transportation to unpredictable world events, travel and expense planning requires swift action on the part of leadership. By understanding what an institution’s ideal future of travel looks like and how these disruptors may affect the institution, leadership can build contingency plans to serve these strategic goals going forward. Instead of waiting until travel picks up again, colleges and universities can start incorporating scalable policies and procedures and begin deploying innovative technologies across departments right. These practices can prepare the institution with resilient programs before becoming immersed in the new fall term. Streamlining the rollout to include both implementation and deployment allows institutions to dedicate time to offering detailed training when travel needs come up. Creating this environment of collaboration between departments and allowing employees to dive into new technology collaboratively ensures continuity once travel resumes full force. The future may not be certain, but leadership can begin identifying what will best suit their institution going forward and work back from there to achieve those goals.


A successful return to travel

The goal with travel and expense planning is just that—planning. For colleges and universities that are looking to reconfigure their travel and expense businesses, it is critical to take measured steps to build in processes that can adapt to both today and tomorrow. Higher education leaders must be proactive in guiding their institutions through the continuous sea of change that is post-COVID travel. Travel and expense management is an instrumental part of a future-focused strategic plan as leaders evaluate how they begin to rebound from the pandemic. By prioritizing travel and capitalizing on the opportunities it presents, universities and colleges can position themselves for success for years to come.


Huron helps clients in diverse industries improve performance, reduce costs, and leverage technology. As a Certified Concur Advisor, Huron has extensive experience in implementing travel and expense solutions and understanding the unique challenges of assessing, building, and optimizing best-in-class travel and expense management programs. Learn more at www.huronconsultinggroup.com

Loading next article