CPA License Valued at College Campuses
Instructors who have a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license are considered the most effective in teaching college accounting, said panelists at an NJCPA Accounting Educators Workshop in Iselin on Nov. 16. Doctorate degrees are typically required for full-time academic positions, while CPAs often become adjunct professors.
CPAs provide the practical, real-life experience that is needed in today’s classrooms, said panelists. Students benefit from instructors who have a CPA license, not only for their own coursework but in understanding what jobs are open to them upon graduation. They noted that students need the instructor to be a role model, who would encourage the next generation to become CPAs.
Evan James Palmer, CPA, RMA, senior manager at Bowman & Company LLP, noted that when he went to school many of his accounting professors worked in the day at their firms and then came to teach students to provide that real-world example. They would say, “your textbook may tell you how to write something, but this is what we are really looking for.”
Panelist Elizabeth Ekmekjian, CPA, J.D., professor at William Paterson University, added that for full-time faculty, the focus is on having the Ph.D. Even though schools receive qualified individuals who come in from the Big Four or other prestigious firms, without a Ph.D., due to the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) restrictions, he or she would only be able to work as an instructor for a certain amount of time, typically up to three years, she said. “We have to satisfy our AACSB ratios. I find that really problematic.”
“Our accounting adjuncts are all in practice,” she added. However, it’s still hard for CPAs without a Ph.D. to become full-time faculty members. “One of our recent graduates is a perfect example. She would love to come on board, but she doesn’t have her Ph.D. I’m trying to get her because we could always use good faculty members. But for her to quit her job and go full-time to get her Ph.D. is virtually impossible at this time.” The part-time Ph.D. programs for accounting, Ekmekjian explains, are also too expensive. “It would be great to have someone coming from industry who is bright, young and energetic teaching our students.”
“To even get a CPA on a review team at colleges and universities has been a big accomplishment,” added Ralph Albert Thomas, CPA (DC), CGMA, CEO and executive director at NJCPA and moderator of the event. “I sit on seven accounting advisory boards and it’s a challenge...this discussion about credentials goes on. It seems to be very circular.”
So, what skills do CPAs recommend accounting students have? Panelists overwhelmingly said that while students may understand the technical aspects of accounting, many today often come unprepared for job interviews, internships and professional events.
The ability to communicate is needed more than ever, according to panelist Kathleen Powers, CPA, CFO at Matheny Medical and Educational Center and Trustee at NJCPA. While in the accounting profession, one is not dealing only with accountants on a daily basis, she reminds. “To be able to communicate your thoughts and ideas to other people so that they understand and are willing to get on board with your suggestions is important. You have to be able to explain the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’ of something. Also, critical thinking — you need the skill to look beyond the numbers.”
Thomas Cunningham, CPA, assistant controller at Merck, added, “Now your critical skills are communication.” Understanding what someone is trying to say is 90 percent of an accounting job, he noted. “Obviously, the technical accounting skills are needed; that’s the base. But beyond that I would rate communication, leadership and the ability to just interact with people.”
Another panelist, David Rim, CPA, CGMA, senior audit manager at Mazars USA LLP, says writing is a key skill that could be improved. Often, he sees documents from young professionals that are one-sided and too conversational. “Not having good writing skills takes the credibility out of the hard work that someone might have put into a project or document,” he said.
He also sees a gap existing between practical accounting knowledge and using accounting software, particularly for those who operate the accounting software and those involved in the accounts. “No one is there to bridge this gap. If there’s a way to teach what the software is actually doing on the accounting end, that would be helpful,” he said.
More Excel training also came into the discussion since CPA Exam pass rates are likely to continue to be tied to students’ ability to use Excel as an added tool when taking the Exam. And in cases where some students needed one credit to graduate, perhaps adding a one-credit Excel course would be helpful. Currently, many accounting programs offer Excel in workshops for a few hours at a time or in non-credited courses.
David T. Rim
David Rim, CPA, is a senior audit manager at Mazars USA. He has 10 years of diversified professional experience providing accounting, attest and consulting services to manufacturing and distribution clients across various industries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth C. Ekmekjian
Elizabeth Ekmekjian, CPA, J.D., is a professor at William Paterson University. She specialiizes in tax, law and accounting. She is a member of the NJCPA and can be reached at email@example.com.
Evan James Palmer
Evan James Palmer, CPA, RMA, is a senior manager in Governmental Services at Bowman & Company LLP. His areas of expertise include the audit of municipal governments, school districts, charter schools and fire districts of the State of New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathleen F. Powers
Kathleen Powers, CPA, is CFO at Matheny Medical and Educational Center and Trustee at NJCPA. She is the leader of the NJCPA's Nonprofit Interest Group. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Ralph Albert Thomas
Ralph Albert Thomas, CPA (DC), CGMA, is the CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of CPAs. He was appointed by New Jersey Senate President Sweeney to the New Jersey Economic and Fiscal Policy Working Group in 2018. He was also previously appointed to the AICPA Foundation Board and the inaugural AICPA National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion. Ralph is a lifetime member and former national and chapter president of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), was appointed chair of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s (NASBA) State Society Relations Committee, and is a member of the accounting advisory boards of Lehigh, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Montclair State, Felician, Thomas Edison universities and Middlesex County College. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Thomas J. Cunningham
Thomas Cunningham, CPA, is the assistant controller at Merck & Co., Inc. He can be reached at email@example.com.