SUU In View (Alumni Magazine - Spring 2003)
An equation for success
SUU's Master of Accountancy program uses a variety of approaches to prepare students to compete in the modern world.
The master's degree in accounting at SUU (informally referred to as the MAcc) seeks to address contemporary problems faced by the accounting profession and accounting education in a "real-life" approach that enriches the educational experience of students in the classroom. Its design, complementary, of course, to the undergraduate program as well as the mission of the School of Business, provides greater breadth and depth in accounting and other business disciplines to further develop the skills needed to enter and succeed in professional accountancy careers.
Nearly 100 percent of SUU's master accounting graduates enter lucrative jobs in areas like taxation, auditing and controllership immediately upon graduation. Starting salaries range from $35,000 to more than $55,000, and it is not uncommon for our graduates to receive signing bonuses and moving allowances. Our students have become partners in firms.
It may come as a surprise to some, but indeed, SUU is a well-known higher education institution in the halls of accounting firms rated in the nation's Top 5 category. With an average ETS score in the 80th percentile, SUU students are known and regarded by the Top 5 as extremely well-prepared job candidates. "The firms always want more of our graduates," David Christensen, professor of accounting and department chair, exclaims. "SUU accounting graduates are sought after."
"The reputation of our faculty and program has been solidified," Christensen elaborates, "by our alumni's performance, which repeatedly prompts calls for more SUU students."
Networking is not just a trendy term in the philosophy of SUU's accounting department. A model across campus, accounting's very active internship and professional partnership program has proven to be just as strong a teaching tool as textbooks and case studies. The accounting faculty meet regularly with recruiters from firms from Las Vegas to the Bay Area to share information about students, and to receive suggestions on how to continuously improve the accounting curriculum.
Through the Professional Accountancy Club, students are enriched by and contribute to university committees, professional seminars, student organizations and community consulting activities. "The fostering of an active student accounting organization is fundamental to the career development process," Christensen states. Serious regular workshops conducted by current professionals cover subjects from how to dress professionally to applying current analytical techniques, all with the objective of developing a well-rounded student into a marketable and effective professional. The shaping of interpersonal and communi-cation competencies of accounting students is equivalent to honing their technical knowledge.
Likewise, everyone looks forward to the annual golf tournament which brings faculty, students and executives together. While driving the links, relationships are nurtured, internship plans are finalized, and the educational experience for the student, enhanced. Undeniably, job offers are a common result of such networking investments-from such upper echelon firms as KPMG; Deloitte and Touche, Intl; and McGladrey and Pullen.
Of the seven accounting faculty, two have professional degrees and licensing, and five have terminal degrees. Pedagogical activity is encouraged and supported as it complements work in the classroom. "Both are crucial in the molding of successful accountants," Christensen says. He and colleague, Professor David Rees, recently completed research that culminated from interviews with more than 90,000 accountants nationally. Christensen and Rees were earnest in wanting to determine which, if any, specific communication skills affected the effectiveness of an accountant's work. The results showed something likely unexpected, yet very real. "Our research confirmed that, globally, the professionals who can write, who can explain their numerical work, effectively through words, are the most successful and most valuable to the process and business overall." Christensen reports that, now, more essay work has been incorporated into the SUU accounting curriculum.
Another notion that might not necessarily be associated with accountancy is that of service. "We feel very strongly that service experiences develop the knowledge and skills of the students," Christensen explains, "and provide relevant, practical examples for use in the classroom." The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program is an excellent example of how well accounting and service learning go together. In spring 2002, 43 accounting students prepared 311 tax returns for their fellow students and neighbors within the community, and helped another 237 individuals with various tax forms and questions. Graduate students served as supervisors, conducting the entire operation as efficiently as any professional firm.
Last year, in only their third year of competition, SUU's undergraduate and graduate tax practice teams both placed in the Top 20 of the nation in the 10th annual Andersen Tax Challenge (ATC), now called the Deloitte Tax Challenge. Students were selected to compete in the ATC based upon GPA and classroom performance. Led by Professor Jeffrey Barnes, SUU's team spent months preparing to go up against their peers from such universities as Arizona State, Brigham Young and Texas Tech, on issues relating to the Internal Revenue Code, Treasury Regulations, and previous Tax Challenge cases. At the competition, the team was given a 46-page book full of complicated tax cases to solve. They were granted seven hours to absorb and discuss the information together, and prepare to present their written solutions, consisting of an equal number of pages!
The competitors in the newly-managed Deloitte Tax Challenge come on an invitation-only basis consisting normally of only schools from which Deloitte has hired tax staff. Deloitte has hired SUU students for their auditing department. However, Barnes contacted key people involved with the Tax Challenge and issued them a friendly reminder of SUU's national ranking, and is currently working to modify the policy.
With that, though, Barnes holds that it would only be to the advantage of SUU to explore expanding the University's accounting program to include specialization curriculum. In other words, in conjunction with general accounting manager training, offer emphases in the various branches of accounting, like taxation and auditing.
At any rate, SUU's accounting program and its alumni are notable success stories, and will inevitably continue to improve. "Many people have the misconception that because students don't come from a "prestigious' university," Barnes submits, "they don't have the ability to perform well. SUU students have proven such skeptics wrong."