The Importance of Advanced Degrees, with Rob Chabot

AccountingWEB Workshop: November 29, 2000

Presenter: Rob Chabot, M.Acc., Academic Program Coordinator, Master of Accounting program
The Max M. Fisher College of Business, Ohio State University

Session Moderator: Thank you all for joining us! Today we are fortunate enough to have Rob Chabot as our guest presenter. Rob Chabot is a native of Whittier, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles. He has a B.S. in Business Administration with a major in Accounting and a minor in Geography from Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. He has a Master's degree in Geography from Ohio State University. Mr. Chabot is a CPA, formerly with the firm of Ernst & Young. In his current position as Academic Program Coordinator for the Master of Accounting Program at Ohio State University, Mr. Chabot works with students from "cradle to grave" - in other words, from the time they inquire about the MAcc program and want more information to helping them graduate with the MAcc degree.

Welcome Rob! The floor is yours!

Robert Chabot: Welcome everyone. Please be sure to interrupt me along the way. I'd rather have a discussion that addresses the questions that everyone else has as opposed to any particular points that I might want to bring up. With regard to the "importance of an advanced degree" within the context of accounting, the field of accounting has changed immensely_ during the past 10+ years.

I started with E&Y back in the late 1980s and I have noted dramatic changes in my discussions with current undergraduate students and discussions with recruiters from the various firms. The nature of accounting work seems to have broadened quite a bit in that accountants, instead of being strict specialists in a very narrowly defined technical area, are now expected to possess a wide array of talents - more so than what seemed to have been required in the "old days."

In my position at Ohio State, I often ask students who are inquiring about our MAcc program "Why are you interested in getting a MAcc?"

The answers usually focus on the short-term -- in a nutshell, "I want to be eligible to sit for the CPA exam!" Although a good start, that reason - by and in of itself - is not the WHOLE reason why someone might want to pursue a Master of Accounting or MBA or ... whatever other graduate program they're considering. Pressed a bit more, students will then usually say, "I want to make more money! And I think I can do that with a master's degree than with a baccalaureate degree by itself."

That last comment from students, I think, is also a telling one ...Of course, the monetary reward from additional education cannot be underestimated - but I think it is also the way that the labor market tends to reward those people with the skills in very high demand. Skills such as quantitative reasoning, the ability to write clearly and concisely, the ability to communicate effectively - orally and in written form. The ability to persuade another - or at least to explain yourself.

Session Moderator: Are these skills taught in the graduate accounting program?

Robert Chabot: Yes, in a good graduate program?

Arlen Pecka: Can these skills actually be taught?

Charles Davis Robert: Let me jump in with the money comment. I see from some of the firms that recruit my students that no, or very little salary differential is offered to master's students. It's hard to convince them to stay the extra year in light of that. Any comment?

Robert Chabot: I'll answer Charles' question first then will address Arlen's question. With regard to money, my experience at Ohio State is anecdotal ... in other words, these are mini case studies that appear from time to time when I am interviewing students. Last week, I met with a student who interned at John Deere near Chicago during Summer 2000. They want him as a permanent employee quite badly upon his graduation. He asked the folks at John Deere --- Will the MAcc make a difference to you with respect to starting offer? and they emphatically said "Yes."

There are other instances that I can cite but I don't know if I can type that quickly and accurately! :-)

With regard to whether the skills question that Arlen posed earlier ... I don't know if they can be "taught" in the technical sense but ... I am quite sure - based on what I have seen and experienced - that a graduate education will often hone and sharpen skills that students never have a chance to do when they were undergraduates.

Arlen Pecka: So, if I understand correctly, the advanced degrees with sharpen talents that are already present?

Robert Chabot: The case study method, for example, forces students to work in teams. It also usually forces them to be good presenters under pressure. Their grades depend upon it.

Arlen Pecka: Good Point!

Robert Chabot: Most MBA programs and MAcc programs utilize this method - and, I believe, potential employers know this ...Sure, when you start working in small teams, working on a specific project and trying to produce a quality product under a deadline ...
That emulates the "real world" - especially the accountant's world! :-) - like nothing else - well, nothing short of actual field experience, obviously. Our program has been in existence for all of three months so I have no "school specific" data to share with you but he has told me that the accounting firms there pay most attention to the MAcc/MSA students there first and THEN look at the bachelor's degree holders. I don't know how that translates into job placement and statistics in that particular state but I get the impression that the best offers go to the Master students first than to the baccalaureate students.

Natalie Yeske: How much more does a MAcc Degree usually pay?

Natalie Yeske: Do you know job placement statistics or salaries with a Bachelors Degree vs. a Master Degree?

Steve Olson: Any benefit to someone out of college ten years to get a masters?

Robert Chabot: Any benefit to someone out of college ten years to get a graduate degree? we do have a professor here who says that he is familiar with what happened in Florida after it passed the 150-hour rule in the early 80s . I get this question from time to time. It REALLY depends on the person. I think that question can also be asked of someone who is FRESH out of college.

Getting an advanced degree is not an option for some people - could be for financial reasons, or family commitments.

Session Moderator: And here's a related question that was e-mailed to me - I am a non-traditional student. My college career was interrupted by raising our four children. Two years ago the last one completed his college career and I quit my job as a bookkeeper to return to school full time. I will graduate this May. At that time I will have a BS in accounting, and will have the 150 hours that Missouri requires applicants to have before they are eligible to sit for the CPA exam. Several of my professors have suggested that I would be a good candidate for an advanced degree in accounting. (I currently have a 3.971 GPA.) I however am very unsure that an advanced degree would be very helpful to me. Currently the market for graduates eligible to sit for the CPA is very hot since the 150 rule went into effect Jan 2000. The number of people available this year is small. The number should rebound by next year. Because I put my education on hold for so long I do not see the length of my work career as being the typical 20 to 30 years. I am looking at 10 maybe 12, before I retire and do some of the traveling I'd like to do. From your perspective what advantages would you see for my situation by going on for an advanced degree. If I did go it would be for a masters in tax.

Robert Chabot: This person is in a very unique situation. My best advice for her would be to pursue passing the CPA Exam ASAP - my personal experience was that once you pass the exam, people come to you with job offers! But, I would definitely encourage her to seek the advanced degree - MST is a hot one and she might be able to find a "distance" degree - accredited of course, that might fit into her lifestyle.

Karen Goncalves: What do you think is the importance of an advanced degree to an individual in the marketing field?

Robert Chabot: With respect to marketing (and with respect to my friends who graduated with undergraduate Marketing degrees) ..the quality of your internships - if any - you had during your undergraduate experience would strongly influence the quality of job you might get out of college. Marketing seems not to be "sensed" as technical as other majors - rightly or wrongly so. Based on what I have seen come out of MBA programs, it appears it is a bit (or a lot?) easier to jump up the corporate ladder with an advanced degree (e.g. MBA with Marketing major, etc.) than without it.

Unfortunately, my experience with marketing majors is limited only to personal knowledge of friends and their experiences. I hope this helps ...???

Natalie Yeske: I am doing a persuasive speech on getting a Masters Degree, and I wondered on average how much salary increases with this degree?

Robert Chabot: There is a statistic that is posted on a LOT of websites ..the statement says something along the lines that a person with an advanced degree - e.g. MAcc - as opposed to a bachelor of science in accounting will make - ON AVERAGE - 10% to 20% higher salary (sorry for the poor grammar!) at the start of one's career and throughout one's career. I questioned the AICPA on the source of this statement as it appears to be the "source. They replied to me that it was the result of a study commissioned by Robert Half and Assoc. a few years ago - within the past three years, I think. I have never **seen** the study referenced above but I believe the AICPA. Any organization that writes an exam THAT tough must be telling the truth! :-)

Natalie Yeske: Thank you so much!

Session Moderator: You mentioned distance degrees earlier. Are distance degrees for graduate programs available through OSU, or other locations that you are aware of?

Robert Chabot: The key thing here is that as with ANY graduate program, regardless of "distance" or live in the classroom, the school MUST be accredited by a recognized organization. Otherwise, people will question the validity of any diploma you earn there. It does not appear to be a common option. We do not have it at Ohio State - but I am aware of it in existence at some schools (e.g. Auburn Univ in Alabama).

Arlen Pecka: Why are the educational institutions so slow in utilizing the power of the Internet when it comes to distance learning?

Robert Chabot: This is something that all schools - as far as I can tell - are trying to offer as soon as possible. This is the "hot thing" right now in college offerings. My experience leads me to believe that there are several factors here ... People with well-developed networking and HTML skills, etc., are very hard to come by and very expensive once you find them! One really important one is lack of qualified personnel to undertake such tasks.

Arlen Pecka: I think they are afraid that their physical plants will no longer be needed.

Session Moderator: Are professors actively resisting a change to a virtual environment?

Arlen Pecka: Good question!

Robert Chabot: Depends on the faculty member. Some seem very comfortable with the method - while others, if they cannot "see" the students, do not feel like it is really "teaching."

Charles Davis Arlen: as one facing this issue at the moment, a concern is maintaining the integrity of the degree. Just as any e-commerce venture, I have to be concerned that the person completing the work is really the person enrolled in the program. It is difficult to verify who is completing assignments.

Arlen Pecka: I would guess that would be difficult.

Robert Chabot: Charles brings up a very good point - and it was going to be my third, actually! The security issues are very technical issues that must be resolved before you can get the full support from the faculty as a whole. Again, these comments are based on my observations as a student, administrator and former instructor in a geography department.

Natalie Yeske: I think that it just takes some time to setup a program such as this, but I know here at Kansas State they are discussing it and I believe everyone thinks it is a great idea!

Arlen Pecka: I admit it, I'm naive. I just assume honesty.

Robert Chabot: From the student's perspective, it is great because you're not tied to a particular point in time and space for a certain length of time. The only thing that remains constant in the distance environment is the length of academic term - all else can / might away. And that is a major change form the past.

Natalie Yeske: Many of my instructors have told us that a Masters Degree, especially in the Accounting field, is really becoming the standard.

Robert Chabot: Natalie, this is especially true in states where the "150 hour law" has been in place for some time.

Robert Chabot: Ohio just had its law become effective as of January 1 2000.

Natalie Yeske: . . . especially for those thinking of becoming partners or controllers, etc.

Steve Olson: That's what I'm afraid of, by not having an advanced degree and I don't see panicking in the streets ... yet. Well, there was that loss to Michigan.

Steve Olson: Your CPA designation is just "so what"

Robert Chabot: But I believe you are right - especially in those states where the law has been in place for quite some time. The way a recruiter for one of the major firms described it to me was , "Look, if we have two VERY good accounting students, same GPA, everything the same EXCEPT for the fact that one of them has an advanced degree ... which one are we going to consider first?"

Natalie Yeske: Oh, I think a CPA license is still very well respected, it should be after taking that test!

Robert Chabot: After sitting through (and passing) both the CPA Exam and general comps for a PhD program ... I vote with Natalie. It was the most draining 2.5 days of my life! Not to mention the seven months prior. I want to squeeze this part in before we run out of time ... has to do with those people that are considering an advanced degree and plan to apply ...

If you are thinking of applying to any graduate program, find out the applicable deadlines and apply **early**. Many schools have "financial aid priority" deadlines that are several months prior to the "application deadline." Also, by applying early, you can keep your options open since most programs will give you an admission decision "x" number of weeks following submission of your completed application. In other words, the earlier your application, the earlier a decision can be made on your application. Also ... On a related note, arrange to take the required standardized test(s) (e.g. GMAT, etc.) as early as possible - don't wait until the last minute!

Session Moderator: We're nearly out of time - does anyone have any other questions?

Natalie Yeske: How bad is the GMAT?? All those analogy.

Robert Chabot: I do want to pass along this web site for those who want to get a sense as to how pervasive the 150 hour law in the U.S. is www.aicpa.org/states/uaa/150chart.htm The GMAT? I have seen students with strong GPAs come through with GMAT scores from high 400s to over 700.

Natalie Yeske: I haven't heard much about, but I know it is worth studying for.

Robert Chabot: I think some people focus too much on content and not enough time on HOW to take the test - there are strategies!

Natalie Yeske: What are they?

Robert Chabot: There isn't enough time to answer THAT question here but you get a sense of the strategies by going to any bookstore or to a public library's reference section and checking out the GMAT prep books. They're chock filled with them!

Natalie Yeske: Great, thanks!

Arlen Pecka: How come election results aren't certified by accounting firms?

Robert Chabot: You'll definitely want to brush up on math - for some odd reason, there are a fair number of geometry questions on the GMAT and GRE ... why, I don't know. Because the local canvassing boards cannot afford their fees. Next question ... :-)

Robert Chabot: If anybody has any questions I wasn't able to answer here, feel free to drop me a line at Chabot.2@osu.edu

Session Moderator: Rob - this has been a GREAT workshop! Thank you so much for coming! And thank to all of you who attended!

Arlen Pecka: Thank You both also.

Robert Chabot: Thank you and whatever you all do - wash your hands and avoid the common cold at all costs! :-)

Arlen Pecka: Good advice.

Robert Chabot: Right now I sound like a combination between Carol Channing and Froggy from the Little Rascals. Not a pretty sight ...

Goodbye, everyone - this was fun.

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