Getting Started with the Chart of Accounts

Learn about the Chart of Accounts in the Accounting and Reporting at Columbia (ARC) system at Columbia University.


A chart of accounts is a list of all General Ledger (GL) accounts used by one or several University codes. In ARC, the chart of accounts refers to how we organize our financial information.

For each GL account, the chart of accounts contains the:

  • account number
  • account name 
  • the information that controls how an account functions
  • the information that controls how a GL account is created in a University code

ChartFields are the individual components that describe each element of a financial transaction (e.g., department, funding source, etc.).

Altogether, there are eleven ChartFields, including "Fund", "Project", "Department", and "Account", where  "Account" refers to categories of revenue and expenses.  Each ChartField has a defined purpose and contains the list of values a user can choose from to organize and label financial transactions and balances.  ChartFields can be thought of as column headers in Excel, where each transaction is a row that puts a set of values in each column.

ChartFields can be organized by ranges, attributes, and trees:  

  • Ranges  each ChartField has conventions for assigning names and ranges to group similar values together
  • Attributes categorize ChartFields for security, reporting, programming and other purposes.  A set of attributes is attached to each ChartField value (similar to attributes attached to FAS Accounts) – for example, each Project has an “Owning Department” attribute
  • Trees are used to organize ChartField data into hierarchies which can be used for security, reporting, and managing the organizational structure

Inquiry, query and report access by ChartField allows users to view all financial activity recorded on a specific Project, Activity, Initiative and/or Segment.

Summary Reports by ChartFields are special reports in the Financial Data Store that utilize "Ownership" of a project, initiative, or segment. Owners can see all activity for these ChartFields, across departments.  For example, if four different departments transact on a project, the owner of the project will be able to view the activity for the project across all of the departments that transact on it.

Together, the values chosen for each of the eleven ChartFields form a ChartString.  A ChartString is simply the combination of ChartFields chosen for any given transaction. A group of ChartFields together makes a ChartString, which is needed for every procurement transaction and journal entry in ARC.

Below is a list of the eleven ChartFields that make up Columbia University’s Chart of Accounts. The digit next to each ChartField on the diagram represents the ChartField length. For example, Business Unit values are five characters long (e.g. COLUM). Each ChartField tells us something about a transaction:

There are two trainings to help you understand the different components of the Chart of Accounts:

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