Why More Ph.D.s in Accounting Can Help Diversify the Profession

by Blane Ruschak, KPMG U.S. Foundation, Inc and The PhD Project | October 1, 2020

The American Institute of CPAs’ (AICPA) 2019 Trends report shows important insight: When students first start down the path of becoming an accounting professional, there’s pretty strong representation from people across many races. In fact, 44 percent of students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs and 42 percent enrolled in master’s degrees programs are non-white. Yet, as we examine the different professional milestones in the accounting industry, a gap appears — and widens quickly. Only 30 percent of new graduate hires at CPA firms, 16 percent of all CPAs and nine percent of partners are non-white.

What Can Help

Increasing the number of diverse accounting professionals with Ph.D.s — individuals committed to teaching at colleges and universities — is one strategy that can have a major impact on what the profession looks like in the future. It gives minority students access to someone who has practiced in the field and understands the business community, who can help them make business world connections essential to landing the right job, and who can instill the importance of pursuing a CPA before they even enter the business world. These practical insights and experiences — beyond the lessons learned in the classroom — are invaluable to students just starting on their career path.

Dr. Helen Brown-Liburd, an auditing and accounting information systems professor at Rutgers University, has seen this first-hand. Since earning her Ph.D. in accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she has counseled and advised students of all races and backgrounds on career decisions and plans. According to Dr. Brown-Liburd, it’s not unusual for students who take her freshman-level course to reconnect two or three years later, preparing to enter the job market. These young professionals are desperately seeking guidance and insights about job opportunities and employers from people who look like them. And there just aren’t enough diverse professors in academia today to properly guide them.

In the last 15 years, the accounting field has made strides to increase diversity among faculty in colleges and universities across the country. In 1994, there were about 100 minority accounting professors with Ph.D.s. Today, there are about 388 professors with Ph.D.s representing African Americans, Latinx and Native Americans.

Getting a Ph.D.

While the prospects of getting a Ph.D. may seem daunting, many candidates are surprised by the requirements, support and benefits that go along with a Ph.D. program. These include the following:

  • Most universities do not charge tuition and do provide stipends to business doctoral students. The level of stipends can vary between $15,000 and $40,000 per year.
  • A master’s degree is not required to enter a business doctoral program.
  • Accounting professionals have access to several organizations, including The PhD Project, that provide support during each phase of advanced degree pursuit.
  • Academic salaries can be very attractive. View the latest AACSB salary data here.
  • Experience and maturity gained in the corporate world is highly valued.

Minority accounting professionals can help continue this momentum by committing to return to the classroom to pursue a Ph.D., and, subsequently, support the next generation’s educational and professional pursuits. Of course, this is a big life decision and it needs to be taken seriously.


Blane  Ruschak

Blane Ruschak

Blane Ruschak is president of KPMG U.S. Foundation, Inc. and president of The PhD project, a program designed to create more diverse business leaders by supporting diverse professionals in obtaining their Ph.D. in business and becoming role models in the classroom, academic administration and academic leadership positions.

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