By Deanna C. White
In fall 2009, when most young professionals and recent college graduates were struggling to find almost any position in the decimated American job market, Denise Hanes, a successful senior associate with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Philadelphia, did what many might consider the unthinkable.
She left her secure, and relatively much more lucrative, career in the firm to pursue a PhD in accounting at Bentley University in Boston, Massachusetts, through the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Accounting Doctoral Scholars (ADS) Program.
"I really liked my job at PwC, but after four years, I wanted to push myself to try something different. I wanted to broaden my skill set", Hanes said. "I like the university setting, and I really like to be able to talk conceptually about issues. That's what pulled me into academics."
Hanes is just one of 120 accounting scholars who are pursuing their PhD in accounting through the ADS Program. The cadre of scholars will stem from what the AICPA considers to be an imminent and critical shortage of PhD accounting faculty.
It will also provide a pool of faculty with recent real-world experience in audit and tax.
"Because we believe there is an impending shortage of accounting PhD faculty, which is a necessary and integral part of the accounting profession supply chain, the AICPA established the Accounting Scholars Doctoral Program", AICPA President and CEO Barry C. Melancon told members of the House Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises March 28.
"With financial commitments exceeding $17 million, the program's goal is to increase the current doctoral pool by 120 PhDs by 2016. This program should also increase the availability and quality of accounting programs across the country", Melancon testified.
Here are some key facts about the program, according to Steve Matzke, senior manager of the ADS Program:
- The program was conceived in 2006 by then AICPA Foundation President Bill Ezzell.
- Building a robust supply of accounting faculty was a recommendation made in a March 2008 report by the Subcommittee on Human Capital of the US Department of the Treasury's Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession. The subcommittee endorsed increasing the number of accounting faculty members through public and private funding.
- The program was designed to incrementally increase the current number of PhD students in tax and audit.
- According to the American Accounting Association (AAA), the greatest need for PhD faculty was in the areas of audit and tax, where the demand for PhDs would only be met by 22.8 percent and 27.1 percent respectively.
- At the time of the AAA findings, the average age of the professorate was fifty-five or older, leading program leaders to realize retirements in the coming years would place an even bigger drain on the PhD pool.
- By 2009, the AICPA Foundation, acting as administrator of the ADS Program, had secured commitments of $17 million from 120 organizations, including many of the nation's largest public accounting firms, state CPA societies, and the AICPA itself, to work with universities and colleges to increase the PhD pool.
Working details of the ADS Program include:
- The program was launched in 2008. Its goal is to create 120 new accounting PhDs by 2016.
- The initial program is designed to have and eight-year life span; four years to select candidates and four years for their development as PhDs.
- All the candidates have been chosen. The last class selected will begin classes in fall 2012.
- The program will fund each candidate's education at a cost of a cost of $120,000 ($30,000 per year) over the course of four years. If a fifth year is required, the college or university will cover that cost.
- According to Matzke, the candidate pool is incredibly diverse: ages range from twenty-eight to forty-two, and the pool is split approximately 50/50 between male and female candidates.
- There are more audit candidates, approximately two-thirds of the pool, than tax candidates.
- Participating universities and colleges span the country and include Rutgers University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Colorado.
Matzke said the incentive for participating schools, and part of what has made the program so successful, is two-fold:
- Universities know the talent pool they are receiving has already been vetted, so they know they will truly be receiving the best candidates.
- The ADS Program funding offsets the enormous financial drain a PhD candidate places on a university, allowing the university to accept more candidates.
"Universities have a limit on how many PhD candidates they can accept. Before, they may have only been able to take two candidates, but now they can take three because the ADS Program will fund the third", Matzke said.
As for the accounting profession's incentive to support the program? It's palpably obvious, but profound, Matzke said.
"The enrollments in accounting programs are up to historic levels, and it's these programs that will provide talent to the profession. The profession needs top talent and it needs top educators to prepare that talent", Matzke said.
The ADS Program is not currently accepting applications but will provide updates on future plans for the program in fall of 2012. For more information, visit the ADS Program website.