VOL. 10 | NO. 6 | Saturday, February 4, 2017
EMPHASIS: Financial Services
College Accounting Programs Add Specialties as Profession Evolves
By Michael Waddell
Accounting majors at local colleges have more options than in years past, as course offerings have shifted to meet a job market in which the demand for talented accountants is fueled by more cases of large-scale corporate fraud, new auditing techniques and widespread adoption of technology.
Christian Brothers University is one of four local colleges to offer a forensic accounting program, with the others being Rhodes College, Southwest Tennessee Community College and DeVry University-Tennessee.
CBU, which offers both a Bachelor of Science in accounting and Master of Accountancy, focuses on giving students hands-on experience in corporate or public accounting, said Jennifer Weske, an associate professor of accounting at CBU who holds the Morrie A. & Lillian Moss Chair in Accounting and serves as director of the Master of Accountancy program.
“Because the profession has changed drastically in the past decade, we’ve tried to focus on two different areas: financial management and forensic accounting,” she said.
The forensic accounting series was created at CBU because there was a need more technology.
“With all of the fraud we have today, auditors are required now to really look at and think about data,” said Weske, who has taught at CBU for the past seven years. “So to give students an edge in this area, we offer courses in forensic accounting, information technology security and information technology audits, and compliance classes to introduce them with topics they will be faced with regardless of their job going forward.”
CBU currently counts 26 graduate students in accounting, a number that has grown since the master’s program started four years ago.
The University of Memphis, meanwhile, offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting, as well as a Ph.D. All of the undergrad courses are offered online, as are the majority of the graduate-level courses, and the U of M is working toward being able to offer the entire accounting program online in the next few years.
“The most notable thing we’ve done pertains particularly to our master’s program: We now offer a concentration in data analytics,” said Kenton Walker, director of the University of Memphis School of Accountancy. “Most larger auditing firms are moving toward some different approaches towards auditing. Whereas in the past most audits relied heavily on sampling transactions to justify an audit opinion, now they use tools to analyze the actual transactions for anomalies.”
The U of M usually touts 700 to 800 accounting majors, including both its undergrads and master’s students.
The Tennessee State Board of Accountancy governs undergraduate curriculum, so core classes are similar at most universities, with some variance in electives offered.
A recent change in the state board’s rules now permits students to sit for the CPA exam after they have completed their undergraduate degree and 24 hours of accounting. There are two steps for becoming an accountant: passing the exam and meeting the licensing requirements, which have not changed – students still must have 30 hours of accounting and 150 total college credit hours.
“Most students who want to be a CPA will stay an extra year after they complete their bachelor’s degree and get the master’s degree,” said Walker, who joined the U of M three years ago after previously working at the University of Wyoming.
Due to a faculty shortage, the university has not admitted any student to the Ph.D. program for accounting in a couple of years.
“We haven’t had enough faculty to mentor doctoral students,” Walker said.
He expects some of the school’s junior faculty to progress over time to the point where they will be ready and able to take on the mentoring responsibility.
“Over the course of my life, there have always been more accounting jobs than there are qualified individuals to take these jobs,” said Walker. “And I would say the same thing about accounting faculty, they are very difficult to hire and there has always been a shortage of them, and that persists today and is only getting worse.”
He estimates the average age of accounting professors is near 60.
“With retirement from the baby boom generation, we’re facing some pretty extreme shortages in doctorally qualified accounting faculty,” said Walker, who anticipates hiring three new faculty members this year.