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By Vicki Salemi
If the enrollment numbers are any indication of its widespread appeal, crunching numbers is cool. According to the American Institute of CPA’s, more than 64,000 students graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting in the 2006-2007 school year, the largest number of accounting graduates in at least 36 years.
“Accounting is a very stable and well-anchored career path,” says Denny Reigle, director of academic and career development of the AICPA, a national professional association of CPAs with more than 350,000 CPA members.
Jody Queen-Hubert, executive director of co-op and career services at Pace University, adds, “Businesses always need accountants; the demand is there. Understanding how an organization manages its finances is critical to understanding how the business operates, and students need to cut their teeth in the trenches of an organization.”
Supply and Demand
“The issue is really this: accounting firms need more accountants than ever directly related to regulation,” says Karen A. Berger, Ph.D. associate dean and director of undergraduate programs at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University.
In fact, the already stable profession increased in demand thanks to the passage of the Sarbanes Oxley Act, also known as Sox. This legislation was passed in 2002 in order to reduce and eliminate abuses in financial reports, accounting and transactions and other activities that have damaged credibility in the field. For instance, CEOs and CFOs must sign statements confirming their review and judgments that the financial statements are accurate.
Although strict regulatory requirements in effect for several years created an increased need for more accountants, the sizzle appeal right now may be attributed to the capricious financial industry.
Marjorie Platt, professor and head of the accounting department at the Northeastern University College of Business Administration, explains, “As Wall Street faces serious layoffs, quantitatively oriented students may decide to focus on accounting rather than finance. We’ve seen our number of majors continue to grow over that past year while the number of finance majors is flat or trending down a bit. Since the two subjects are highly related, it may not take a lot of extra effort or coursework to refocus one’s major.”
Another factor contributing to the appeal of accounting, says Queen-Hubert, is a focus on recruiting students on campus. “Accounting firms recruit heavily from college campuses and have been trying to jazz up their image. They have worked hard at trying to attract younger students with sophomore summer leadership programs, internships for juniors, and job offers before students hit their senior year. The image of a boring bean-counter is no longer what firms are projecting.”
As students meet recruiters on campus and learn more about opportunities they may also learn about the variety of paths to pursue. Reigle notes that once you earn your accounting degree, the sky’s the limit. “Within the accounting discipline, there are an increasing number of specialties such as personal financial planning and risk assessment.” Accounting for an adrenalin rush
Tracy Coenen, forensic accountant and author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud (Wiley, 2008), knows about one such specialty, “Fraud investigation sounds sexy, especially to the younger generation. It’s a bit of a twist on traditional accounting roles, which are often seen as boring. The idea of chasing down the bad guys sounds much more interesting than adding up a column of numbers.”
Forensic accountants typically put together a puzzle by piecing together a situation, reconstructing financial records, and following a trail of evidence. “Who knew I’d get an adrenaline rush from doing accounting work?”
Coenen steps into a client’s business to get a quick education as to how things work there and the suspicions of fraud. Next, she gathers data to help prove or disprove fraud, which is contrasted to the role of a traditional accountant who closes the books each month and reconciles accounts.
Many curriculums like Pace University include a forensic accounting class. Their forensic accounting course is a core requirement as part of the internal audit minor.
Full Speed Ahead
As enrollment reached at an all-time high over the past three decades, it seems the popularity of the accounting profession has no intentions of slowing down among students. Queen-Hubert attributes this to the financial crisis. “In today’s world and with the high price tag of a college degree, parents and students are looking for careers that offer long-term prospects and skills that can be portable amongst industries.” And right now, accounting seems to add up.