Sunday, November 7, 2004

Job numbers good for accountants

Colleges flooded after scandals, reforms

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

Peter Theuri lectures in an intermediate accounting class he teaches at Northern Kentucky University. NKU has seen its number of graduate accounting students grow from five in 2000 to 32 in 2004.
Photos by MEGGAN BOOKER/The Enquirer

NKU junior Kari Fryman works out a math problem in her accounting class. In recent years, the demand for CPAs has become higher than the pool of candidates.

Getting Miami University students charged up about accounting wasn't a problem on a recent Tuesday for Julie Peters, a recruiter for the Cincinnati office of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a Big 4 accounting firm.

Peters talked about ample job opportunities, good pay and the likelihood that things will only get better.

"We're not able to find all the accountants that we need," she said. "We're looking for experienced candidates, and we're looking to hire 10 percent more than our normal hiring."

Peters was among a group of professionals brought in to talk about careers in accounting, the market for which Miami professor Marc Rubin says is virtually insatiable.

Even with colleges nationwide reporting record numbers of accounting applicants - including in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky - the demand for CPAs remains higher than the pool of candidates.

Experts cite two factors:

• Negative publicity following accounting frauds, such as the bankruptcy of Enron Corp.

• The Sarbanes-Oxley securities-reform act of 2002, which created jobs by extending auditors' duties at many companies.

"Public accounting firms, as well as corporations, all need additional folks to address the requirements under the new legislation," said Rubin, who is chairman of the department of accountancy at Miami.

The shortage has prompted some big firms to raise salaries as much as 10 to 15 percent, while many firms are hiring twice as many accountants as in 2003, according to Rubin.

Students also have noticed the shortage.

"I came back to school and had to pick something. ... There seemed to be a lot of jobs in accounting and a lot of people didn't want to be accountants," said Dayton, Ky. resident Mary Krieg, 32, a fifth-year Northern Kentucky University senior majoring in accounting. She's expecting to graduate in May with a bachelor's degree.

"I like numbers and I like math, so I thought I'd check it out," she said.

Amanda Dault, 22, of Erlanger is working on her master's in accounting at NKU.

She started the program this fall, after graduating summa cum laude in May from the University of Kentucky with a bachelor of science degree in accounting.

An internship last winter with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Cincinnati convinced Dault of her career choice. "I was able to use my accounting foundation from school in a real-world situation, and I really enjoyed it," she said.

Meanwhile, friends from business school who majored in fields other than accounting - such as business management - are struggling to find jobs, she said. Some are furthering their education even more to make themselves marketable, but it's not that way with accounting, Dault said.

Number of degrees soars

Nationwide, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants reports that the number of accounting degrees awarded last year jumped 11 percent from 2002. Miami saw an increase in undergraduate degrees of about 30 percent from 2000 to 2004, while the number of master's in accounting degrees of rose threefold in that period. Most of the growth in master's degrees came in 2001 when Ohio started requiring 150 hours (five years) of college credit to sit for the CPA exam.

"We have intentionally kept our master's program at about 50 students per year due to resource constraints," Rubin said.

The University of Illinois, one of the nation's biggest producers of accounting graduates, saw a 66 percent increase in undergraduate majors between 2001 and 2004, to 379 students.

The University of Michigan, another big school, reports a 76 percent increase in accounting master's students over the past three years.

Qualifications higher

At the University of Cincinnati, there's also been a lot of growth in the number of accounting master's students.

"It's renewed interest because accountants are in the news, and resulting legislation," associate professor of accounting Jens Stephan said.

Stephan said the 150-hour requirement - in effect in Ohio, Kentucky and 43 other states - was prompted by the accounting profession's efforts to upgrade the qualifications of students who are becoming public accountants.

In the past four years, UC graduated about 100 accounting master's students, and this year is expected to graduate 50.

"With a four-year accounting degree, you can work for companies in the industry and do internal accounting, financial statement preparation and financial analysis," Stephan said. "But you need to be a CPA to be an auditor of a publicly traded firm, and virtually everybody who wants to become a CPA and sit for the exam, will get the (master's) degree."

NKU is seeing the same trend with its graduate program, said Leslie D. Turner, professor and chairman of the accounting department.

"We haven't really had much growth in our undergraduate program, however, our graduate degree - the Master of Accountancy - is growing," Turner said.

The number of enrolled undergraduate accounting students shifted just slightly from 349 to 351 between fall 2000 and fall 2004. But the number of enrolled graduate accounting students grew steadily from five in 2000 to 32 in 2004.

Turner said a declining interest in the fields of computer science and information systems (because of overseas outsourcing of jobs in these fields) has driven business students with fewer career options into accounting.

More faculty needed

At some universities, enrollments have increased so much there isn't enough staff to teach the courses. But the comeback of the accounting career also happens to coincide with a 17-year low in the number of business doctorates produced.

According to the American Accounting Association, the number of faculty openings is now more than twice the number of submitted resumes.

Rubin said because of the short supply of qualified staff, salaries for new doctorates in accounting have gone up substantially the past few years.

"We're looking for another faculty member to begin next year and we have a few very good applicants," he said. "But the number of applicants who applied are considerably less than a year or two ago."

With Baby Boomer-aged faculty nearing retirement, the situation will get worse, Stephan said. But one way that colleges and universities often have responded to this dilemma is to hire adjunct faculty from the business community.

"It's a fairly broad trend anyway in higher education to use non-tenure-track faculty.

The Wall Street Journal contributed. E-mail

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