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Community colleges find winning solution to athletic department’s travel expense challenges

Prepaid expense cards expedite processes, provide flexibility and enhance spending oversight

Illinois Eastern Community Colleges | Olney, Illinois

More than two years ago, Ryan Hawkins, CFO of the Illinois Eastern Community Colleges (IECC), transitioned student-athletes and coaches from checks to CommercePayments® Prepaid Expense Cards for travel expenses. The change resulted in streamlined internal processes, improved on-the-road funding flexibility and enhanced compliance.

Addressing the challenge

IECC’s centralized Accounts Payable (AP) office used to process thousands of athletic department travel expense requests. The time-consuming process included printing and distributing checks to student-athletes and coaches of more than 20 teams at four colleges in as many cities. Further complicating matters, once student-athletes and coaches cashed their expense checks, they carried around a large amount of cash to cover multiple days of meals, hotel and travel expenses. Coaches used their personal credit cards if on-the-road expenses exceeded their cash on hand and would then get reimbursed upon returning home — sometimes taking up to six weeks. Additionally, the organization had no way to ensure cash was used for school-related travel expenses. Hawkins knew from colleagues at other NJCAA institutions that prepaid expense cards could help solve these travel expense challenges.

Streamlining processes

Switching from printed checks to the CommercePayments® Prepaid Expense Card program replaced manual processes with automated ones. After printing checks, the AP department would mail or drive them to each campus’ athletic department prior to its teams’ travel. Now — in a matter of minutes — the AP department can systematically upload travel funds to individual or multiple reloadable, prepaid Visa® cards through an online portal. Coaches and student-athletes have immediate access to funds on their prepaid expense cards, which is safer than having large sums of cash.

Increasing flexibility

Prepaid expense cards provide student-athletes and coaches with greater flexibility while on the road. There are times when unexpected expenses arise, often due to additional travel days during postseason tournament time. If extra hotel nights, per diems or other expenses arise, teams can simply notify the AP department, who can then upload additional funds to the prepaid expense cards. This reduces the demand on coaches to use their personal credit cards and helps decrease the cumbersome receipt reconciliation process upon their return from travel.

Improving compliance

The CommercePayments® Prepaid Expense Card portal has features that enable visibility into transactions to ensure they are used for school-related travel expenses. IECC uses the merchant blocking attribute, which disables purchases at bars, liquor stores or gaming establishments. Organizations can gain transaction insights by easily downloading reconciliation reports by travel date(s), card holder, merchant(s) or any relevant data set. AP departments can also unload unused or overpaid funds from prepaid expense cards.

To learn more about what the Prepaid Expense Card program can do for your institution, visit us online at or email us at CommercePayments® solutions are provided by Commerce Bank.


“Our goal was to replace our manual travel expense processes with automation and prepaid expense cards did that for us.”
— Ryan Hawkins, Chief Financial Officer, Illinois Eastern Community Colleges


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