With the critical shortage of accounting faculty drawing more attention, plans are being implemented to entice more CPA’s into doctoral programs. Initiatives such as the Accounting Doctoral Scholars program aim to supply PhD level accounting faculty focused on auditing and tax to universities in desperate need. As we’ve reported in a previous article, professional organizations and academic institutions have contributed $15 million to fund this ambitious program. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it shouldn’t be considered a cure-all.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the causes that lie behind the current shortage of teaching talent.
The main reason commonly cited for the shortage of accounting faculty is the impending retirement of current staff. Sue Haka, president of the American Accounting Association reports that 43% of accounting professors are age 55 or older. For each year in the next decade, 500 to 700 of these accounting professors will retire, while only 140 new accounting faculty will enter the field.
Myths About the Teaching Profession
When it comes to pursuing a career as an accounting professor, we hear it over and over again. “This is not an economic proposition for people. This is a calling. You have to have this in your blood,” according Ira Solomon, head of the accountancy department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“You don’t teach at a community college for the money,” says Susan Crosson, CPA. Crosson is Accounting Coordinator and an Accounting Professor at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, FL. “You do it for the love of teaching and for the students, and because you can have a tax practice on the side, or are raising your children or you have an aged parent to take care of. Working here, you can juggle life a little.”
Quotes like these can be polarizing. Some CPAs may feel ennobled by their desire to teach, eschewing lucrative private practice or prestigious firm affiliations in favor of reputedly lower paying and less glamorous faculty positions. Others, focused on making and saving money during difficult financial times, may be discouraged by the same factors.
There are many assumptions about the teaching profession that prevent fully qualified candidates from ever entertaining the option. Old adages suchs as “Those who can do; those who can’t teach” wrongly discourage practicing professionals from passing their skills and knowledge to incoming generations. The general perception that the teaching profession is underpaid and undervalued is another point of concern for many.
It is beyond the scope of this blog post to dispel all of the assumptions that surround the teaching profession. Suffice to say that some universities have fully qualified accounting faculty boasting annual salaries of 120K or more. Many of these individuals, who would have never considered teaching in the early years of their lives, now have successful backgrounds practicing public accounting, and have found the time and inclination to enjoy a rewarding second career while giving something back to their chosen vocation.
Research vs Practice
In many cases, you’ll need to have your PhD in order to teach accounting at an accredited university. This requirement is even more important than having your CPA, or any practical experience. Make no mistake: getting your PhD in accounting is far different from earning your CPA. Usually, it involves continuous study, research and publication of findings on accounting topics you never knew existed, and, may not be interested in. When coupled with the rigors of teaching and coursework, research projects can become very stressful. This is a vastly different lifestyle from the practicing CPA or public accounting position.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of circumstances in which practical qualifications are taken into account. Many institutions are now accepting Professionally Qualified (PQ) candidates as a compliment to their Academically Qualified (AQ) PhD counterparts. The concept is that certain areas of the discipline, such as Tax or Auditing, should not be taught by PhD staff. Instead, these topics should be taught by those who have working expertise. This removes the PhD requirement, lowering the bar to entry, while simultaneously providing a greater working knowledge of the topic.
While controversial in some circles, this approach could, in part, alleviate the shortage of accounting faculty to manageable levels. However, there are fears that the quality of accounting education would suffer, leading to entry level accountants with fewer or poorer skills.
Another suggested approach calls for greater flexibility in the determination of “academic qualification” in a doctoral program. This approach could lessen the average time of a program, or minimize the stresses involved by decreasing publication and research requirements.
There may be no quick fix to this long standing problem. Ultimately, it will be a combination of efforts and ideas that turn the tide. Regardless of the method used, the supply of qualified accounting faculty must quickly meet the demand posed by the increasing number of accounting students. We have no choice but to correct the issue immediately. Leaving tomorrow’s students underserved would damage the industry for years to come.