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Are All Masters of Accounting Created Equal?

I recently came across two very interesting posts: Are New Graduates Getting Squeezed by the 150 Hour CPA Requirement? by Francine McKenna at re: The auditors and Are We Asking for Future Problems? by Dr. David Albrecht at The Summa. In both articles, the authors spoke about how the 150-hour credit CPA education requirement is somehow pushing new accounting college graduates to seek a Master of Accounting as a mean to fulfill that requirement. Most importantly, they both make a pertinent remark when they point out that new accounting college graduates have little to nothing to gain in rushing to obtain a Master of Accounting. When you stop and think about it, she relatively has a valid point. Of all the business and accounting courses that constitute the required body of knowledge to be prepared for the CPA exam, Corporate and Estate Taxation and occasionally Government and Non Profit Accounting are the only two classes that are not included in the required curriculum of a typical bachelor’s degree in accounting. This entails that the gap between the standard curriculum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting and the CPA’s candidate body of knowledge is no wider than six credit hours of accounting courses.  Anything beyond those six credit hours is inconsequential as it relates to having the proper training to give the CPA exam.

I would love to sit here to discuss the usefulness or relevancy of the 150-hour credit CPA education requirement but it would be a counterproductive effort. I feel this way because I genuinely believe that the 150-hour credit CPA education requirement is here to stay and there won’t be any turning back as long as thousands of students are graduating every year from universities with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. What I intend to do however is to talk about how some universities are bucking the trend by offering innovative and business relevant Masters of Accounting. If you read my profile located on the upper right corner of this blog, you already know that I recently graduated from college with a degree in accounting and that I am in the process of applying for admission into a Master of Accounting program. As far as I am concerned,  I am interested in obtaining a Master’s degree in Accounting because I would like to acquire the necessary academic training to become an expert in fraud examination and in business advisory. As I was researching universities offering a Master of Accounting, I discovered that while most universities offer a bare-bone like curriculum, a handful of other institutions are setting new benchmarks by designing innovative curricula.  A bare-bone style curriculum is one that has been put together without the student in mind since it does little to nothing in expanding a person’s professional competencies. For instance let’s take a look at the curriculum of the Master of Accounting offered by the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado at Boulder:

REQUIRED COURSES (15 Cr. hours)ELECTIVE COURSES (15 Cr. hours)
Income TaxationAdvanced Financial Accounting
AuditingFinancial Statement Analysis
Advanced Business LawAccounting Information Systems I
Business Risk and Decision Analysis in AuditingInternational Accounting
Current Issues in Professional AccountingAccounting for Government and Non Profit Organizations
Special Topics – Energy Accounting and Finance Seminar
Special Topics – Accounting Information Systems

For somebody who has already completed his/her Bachelor in Accounting, the curriculum above does absolutely nothing to expand his/her academic credentials. Let’s scrutinize this curriculum even further. Three of the required courses (Income Taxation, Auditing, Advanced Business Law) are part of the curriculum of most undergraduate accounting programs. As far as the elective courses, three of them (Advance Financial Accounting, Accounting Information Systems I, Accounting for Government and Non Profit Organizations) are often taken either as a requirement or as an elective by college students majoring in accounting. The Master of Accounting at the Leeds School of Business is more suited for graduate students without a background in accounting. If you have completed a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and are planning on entering a Master of Accounting program, be sure not to commit your financial resources into a program similar to the one above because you are very unlikely to get a return on your investment. The bad news is a plethora of Master of Accounting programs have the same characteristics as the one illustrated above. The good news however is more and more schools are setting themselves apart by offering curricula that allow students either to specialize into a specific area of accounting (Forensic Accounting, Information  Systems, Controllership) or to combine advanced accounting courses with other advanced finance and management courses. Examples of schools offering a Master of Accounting with a special emphasis in Forensic Accounting are: The College at Brockport, Duquesne University, and Georgia Southern University. Specializing in Forensic Accounting will guarantee you an above average rate of return on your investment because it is one of the fastest growing areas of the accounting profession. Some of the universities offering a multidisciplinary Master of Accounting are: The University of Baltimore (Assurance, Finance, Information Technology), The University of Akron (Assurance & Information Systems or Assurance & Finance), College of William & Mary (Integrated curriculum with a mix of Financial Reporting, Investment Management, Business Administration), and Portland State University (Emphasis in Business Administration and Financial Analysis that prepares the student for both the CPA and CFA exams).

A multifaceted Master of Accounting enables you to have much more flexibility in the way you  plan your career progression. In other words, you won’t have to be boxed in either public accounting or industry because your acquired academic credentials will give you the freedom to work in other services areas such as consulting and or financial/investment management. College students should never loose sight of the fact that they are first and foremost customers and as a consequence they must never be taken for granted by universities.  If your state universities are unable to give you the best bang for your buck, you must not be shy to go get your master’s degree out of state.  There should be no room for complacency on your part when it comes to investing your time and money in a post secondary degree. For my part, I intend to start my own list of Innovative Masters of Accounting. The goal of this list is to assist prospective Master of Accounting students to make more informed choices about the schools they should consider attending. If you know of a school that offers an innovative Master of Accounting, please jump to the Contact Page and drop me a note.

35 Comments

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  6. Comment by Steve:

    I currently have an undergraduate degree in the physical sciences and am planning on transitioning to a career path that involves accounting and becoming a CPA. There is not really any issue with the credit hours, as I have over 150 at this point. It is the lack of accounting and business courses at the moment that is preventing me from being a candidate for the CPA exam. My problem is, I have a few options at this point. I can either 1) pursue an undergrad degree in accounting, 2) Pursue a graduate degree in accounting, or 3) working towards a certificate in accounting (which would fulfill all of the required accounting classes to sit for the exam), and then take the outstanding business courses as an unenrolled student. I have approached the professor at the state university I’m going to now, and without going too much into detail, he basically said he has never seen anyone in my situation in his 20 years of teaching and can’t offer me any guidance. Also… do you think I would have trouble getting a job in the field with a certificate as opposed to a degree, but with a CPA?

    • Comment by Narcisse Dansou:

      Steve,

      If you can afford it, I would recommend that you get enrolled in a Master of Accounting program. This will serve to portray you as an individual that received a formal training in the field of accounting. I think your background in physical sciences should be seen as an asset. You will come across as an individual with with great analytical skills. Try to see if you can get into a MAcc program that enjoys a great reputation among local prominent employers (e.g., CPA Firms, Corporations). Provided that you do every well in the program, you should have a job offer extended to you by the time you graduate. I hope this helps and good luck with everything!

  7. Comment by Adam:

    I have a BA in Economics and I want to become a CPA. Unfortunately, I have a 2.5 GPA due to the poor grades I received when I was in Engineering. I did well in my other subjects (A’s and B’s) such as Economics though.

    As for the GMAT I have an average score of 450 after two attempts. I have been unable to raise my score to an acceptable range despite my best efforts.

    Right now, I am taking Accounting classes from LSU. I also enrolled into American Military University’s (a for profit online school with a mediocre reputation) MBA Accounting Program due to their low admission standards. I have been unable to obtain admission into a MACC program such as Colorado State.

    I have an Accounting internship under my belt.

    MY QUESTION IS: Should I bother getting an MBA or MACC from a mediocre school? Subpar schools seem to be my only choice for an MBA or MACC since I have a low GPA. Or should I just get a certificate from LSU or just take enough classes to satisfy CPA requirements and take the CPA exam? I want to obtain a job in an accounting firm of some sort.

    • Comment by Narcisse Dansou:

      Adam:

      Thank you for taking the time to chime in. Get the certificate from LSU if it is not outrageously expensive. Please stay very far away from FOR PROFIT Universities. Please don’t come back to ask me why because that is a discussion for another time. Now you need to keep in my mind that your GPA (2.5) can potentially be a disqualifying factor when applying to jobs within public accounting. If ever you come in contact with an accounting professor or an accomplished accounting professional, seek counsel from either two because you need qualified guidance to assist you with reaching your career goals.
      I hope this helps.

      • Comment by Adam:

        Thank you for your response. I have taken a few graduate Accounting courses from for profit schools. I must admit these graduate Accounting courses are a little easier than the introductory Accounting courses I have been taking at the community college. This alone has me concerned.

        • Comment by Adam:

          I have been looking at Golden Gate University (a non profit, non AACSB accredited college). What is your opinion on business schools without AACSB accreditation?

          • Comment by Narcisse Dansou:

            It is probably too late for a response to your comment and I am sorry for not addressing your inquiry much sooner. In my eyes, AACSB is no longer a factor when evaluating a college of business. What you should be concerned about is the quality of the faculty teaching courses, the breadth and depth of the curriculum of the program you are considering enrolling in, and the local reputation (at the state level) of the program. I hope this helps.

  8. Comment by Anthony B Ross, Sr CPA, CIA, CFE, MBA, MAFM:

    The merit of a master of accountancy program is in how it prepares one for the CPA Exam. Look to the pass rates of the graduates, In Texas, state board of accountancy publishes pass rates by school.

    • Comment by Sharieka Crawford:

      I agree, Mr. Ross. I currently hold a BBA in Accounting and am pursuing my MSA in order to have enough hours for the CPA exam

      • Comment by Narcisse:

        @Ross and @Crawford:
        Both of you make a valid argument. There are however a variety of ways one can fulfill the 150 hour eligibility requirement of the CPA Exam. You can get a MBA, or you can get a dual bachelors degree, or you can simply take a few classes at a community college. I don’t know of many Macc programs that serve as a review program for the CPA exam. I do know that some MAcc programs will charge you extra so you can enroll in a specific live CPA review course that has absolutely nothing to do with the MAcc program itself. That said, the both of you did not really address the thrust of the issue at hand here: “Do most Master of Accounting programs provide any value added competence to individuals holding a Bachelor degree in Accounting?”

        • Comment by Sharieka Crawford:

          I must concur that the Master of Accountancy program I am pursuing is quite redundant of my BBA in Accounting. One of my Master’s professors has even advised me to instead pursue an MBA and concentrate in accounting. However, another one of my Master’s professors brought to my attention that if you are solely interested in accounting, and not the other aspects in which an MBA touches the bases of, then an MSA program will better suit you while equipping you (pretty much as a refresher) for the CPA exam. I will admit that, if given the chance to do it all over again, I would simply do the 150-hour program in accounting instead of wasting another two years and thousands of dollars on enrolling in a Master’s program after completing my Bachelor’s.

  9. Comment by Gyll Kyabu:

    This is a wake-up call to all accounting students to do their research before enrolling in a Master of Accountancy program. Mastery in an area of interest in Accounting is paramount going forward in our industry. Therefore, tailored Master programs such as in Forensic Accounting, or Financial Reporting/ Investment make sense.

  10. Comment by Justus Ekeigwe, CISA:

    First, to answer the question directly; No! All Master of Accounting programs are not equal. Sad to say that majority of them are basically an extension of the Bachelors program: very basic and focused on the principles rather than application and practice.

    The second thing is, even if most master of accounting are practice-based or focused, how much value would it add to someone with a Bachelors in Accounting? Having been in public accounting and now in industry, I have yet to see the value add.

    What I see and believe is that, the master of accounting program is most suited for working professionals from non-accounting fields of knowledge or academic endeavor, and I bet you that is why most colleges keep the program very basic and fundamental, instead of advanced and practical.

    Thoughts!?

    • Comment by Narcisse:

      Justus:
      Thank your for providing your very valuable insights. I believe you hit the nail on the coffin! I hope those who stumble on this blog post and your remarks think twice before throwing money at a Master of Accounting degree. Again, thank you the candor with respect to your views on this discussion!

  11. Comment by John:

    Thank you for the comments. I have seen many master programs in accountancy, and they would be worth less if they were compared to an excellent undergrad program.

    It depends on many factors when comparing. It seems there is an assumption that most undergrad accounting programs are good programs, and the students are properly guided and aware of goals. However, I do not believe most accounting programs are good. This believe is because accounting is not easy to teach. Also. we are developing a skill in addition to knowledge.

  12. Comment by Kel:

    I’m not sure that you can justify your evaluations of MAcc programs simply by looking at a listing of courses. In my program, for example, we had Audit I in undergrad, where we learned the technical side of auditing. We have Audit II in the grad program, which, if you don’t look any further than that, sounds like more of the same.

    Of course, it’s not the same at all. All of the classes in the MAcc program encourage us to think about the merits and drawbacks of standards, to have opininions on accounting matters, and to understand standard setting.

    Be careful when judging a masters of accoutance without even looking for a syllabus on the university website, nevermind speaking to someone who was a student in the program.

    • Comment by Narcisse:

      Kel:

      Thank you for taking the time to read my post and to submit your comments. I don't need to read a syllabus nor do I need to speak to a student to figure out the main topics that are covered in a specific course offered as part of a MACC curriculum. If you can't figure that out on your own, there is not much I can do about it. What I can tell you however is that the body of knowledge that I have accumulated while completing a B. Sc. in Accounting is sufficient to enable me to make a judgment on the overall quality of a specific MACC program. Secondly, the purpose of this post is to highlight the fact most MACC curricula do not warrant the financial and time investments by prospective MACC candidates who already possess a B.Sc. in Accounting. Could you possibly quantify/estimate how substantial is the added competency that your Audit II class will give you over an individual with a B.Sc. in Accounting that took Auditing I? Do you honestly think that your taking Auditing II will give you enough of an edge once the both of you go in the real world? You claimed in your comment, I quote:

      All of the classes in the MAcc program encourage us to think about the merits and drawbacks of standards, to have opininions on accounting matters, and to understand standard setting.

      Does this mean the overall body of knowledge you acquired while an undergraduate student failed in enabling you to sharpen your critical reasoning skills? In other words, the single most important value that you identified in your school MACC program is that it is helping you develop professional skepticism. Bravo!

      Let's get real here. The sole reason why MACC programs have gained so much popularity is because of the 150 credit hours CPA education requirement. Last but not least, I would suggest that you read the following blog post authored by Dr. David Albrecht, Professor of Accounting: Are We Asking for Future Problems? I hope this helps you broaden your understanding of the reasons why all MACC programs are not created equal.

  13. Comment by Shannon:

    First, I would like to say that this site is has a wealth of resources and that you are doing a great job. Secondly, I completed a MAcc back in 2006 @ Keller Graduate school( which is not a traditional school). What drew me to this school was that it offered a MAFM(Masters of Accounting and Financial Management) and the program incorporated the Becker/Stalla CPA/CFA review courses. At the time, I had a BS in Economics and I wanted to transition in a new career as well. As you say, many of the master programs are cookie cut and you definitely have to do your homework and see what works for you.

    I would like to also add that certain CPA firms have their own bias toward certain schools when they are recruiting. I do not understand why this is so maybe it's politics. I would like to hear your thoughts on why firms have a bias toward certain schools when recruiting.

    • Comment by Narcisse:

      Shannon:

      Thank your for your positive feedback on the blog's overall content. Large CPA firms seek to recruit the brightest college students/graduates. The best way to achieve that goal is to go recruit at institutions that tend to attract the best high school graduates within a specific state. Consequently, some universities will get little to no attention from large accounting firms. However, these schools with lesser stature need to make every effort to build and develop partnerships with the accounting firms (large or small) operating within the state boundaries. There is obviously as always some politics involved behind the scenes. I personally think that the ultimate responsibility falls on the accounting departments. Every accounting department should make every effort to create as many opportunities as humanly possible for its students to obtain employment/internship opportunities at CPA firms.

      Again many thanks for your contribution to the debate!

  14. Comment by Jaime:

    I recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in Accounting as well but found out I am a mere 13 hours away from the 150 hour requirement to sit for the CPA exam. My plan was originally to attend graduate school in the fall, and work toward passing the exams by the end of the next year. However, I am in a place now where I could finish my 13 hours by the end of this semester and dedicate my summer to studying and passing the exams. I am trying to do a little bit of research on working as a CPA without your masters degree, but there is not much help out there for me. Any opinion on this route? I briefly talked to a professor of mine and he said I would get a job either way. I'm just very curious how valuable the masters degree actually is in the job search

    • Comment by Narcisse:

      Jaime:

      Thank your for taking the time to submit a comment. A Master's degree in accounting is not required to start a career in public accounting. Enrolling in a Master of Accounting program will achieve two things for you. First, it will enable you to fulfill the 150-hour credit CPA education requirement. Second, it allows you to take advantage of campus recruiting events. As you may know, most accounting firms use campus recruiting events to hire their first year associates. There are three factors accounting firms look at when evaluating entry level candidates: academic achievements (GPA needs to be over 3.0), eligibility to take the CPA exam (how you become eligible doesn't really matter), and professional experience in accounting. If you don't meet any two of these three criteria, it might take quite a while before you land an entry level job in public accounting even after you pass the CPA exam. Not knowing much about your background, this is as far I can go in my response to your comment. I hope you find my reply helpful.

    • Comment by michael alao:

      If you are a CPA no one cares about whether or not you have a masters degree – it's the CPA that counts. As a matter of fact, simply putting on your resume that you are a CPA candidate will be sufficient. At the entry-level employers just want to see that you are planning to and able to sit for the exam.

      Best of luck, you will do well. You already made the best decision for your career by studying accounting.

  15. Comment by OCTAVIO C REYES:

    I hold both a Master of Accountancy and an MBA in Corporate Finance. I earned these degrees in 1993 and 2004, respectively. I think both degrees are very valuable, but different in scope. The MACC is a degree that is very technically oriented, and as such, it covers highly technical subjects in accounting and taxation. The scope of the MBA degree is broader in scope and normally covers diversified business disciplines.

    On a personal level, I feel satisfied about possessing both degrees. The MACC enabled me to learn highly technical subjects in accounting and after completion, I passed the CPA exam. The MBA degree gave me knowledge of other diversified business discplines such as strategic management, business strategy, competitive strategy, marketing, corporate finance, security analysis, financial forecasting, business valuation, to name a few. In 2008, I became a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA) and I consider this new credential a great culmination of my efforts in earning the MBA degree.

    Bottom line, you cannot go wrong with engaging in lifelong learning. I consider both degrees very valuable.

    • Comment by Narcisse:

      @Octavio Reyes

      Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog and also for being kind enough to submit a comment. I fully agree with you. I believe that both the MACC and the MBA are valuable degrees to have. However, the main point of my argument is that most MACC programs are poorly designed/conceptualized. Most individuals seeking a MACC have already obtained a B.S in Accounting. Thus, those people (myself included) need to be extra careful when selecting a MACC program to enroll into or else they might get no ROI.

  16. Comment by michael alao:

    Unfortunately most MACC programs appear to be a waste of time and money – as you have pointed out nicely on your blog. Why don't you pursue an MBA instead?

    • Comment by Narcisse:

      @Michael Alao

      Thank you for taking the time to visit this blog and also for being kind enough to submit a comment. As I pointed out in my post, while most MACC programs do little to nothing to provide valued added skills/knowledge to students who have earned a bachelor in accounting, there are however a number of universities offering very innovative MACC currula. If everything goes according to plan, I will be entering one of those innovative programs in the Fall 2010. I am not considering an MBA because I don't have the level of experience and more importantly the financial resources to get myself into a cutting edge MBA program. Most MBA programs out there are just a remix of of a standard undergraduate business curriculum. Enrolling in those vanilla style MBA programs without years of experience/management experience would be a waste of time and money. I would love to spend a good amount of time in public accounting and establish myself as an effective public accountant before I consider enrolling in a serious MBA program.

      • Comment by John:

        What are a few cutting edge online MBA programs you can think of that have a total cost of less than $50,000? I was thinking of applying to Univ. of HI’s MBA program because I want in-person instruction, networking purposes (going local is important to me) and in-state tuition?

        Also, what are your thoughts on AACSB accreditation? I feel it is a must because many brand name college have this accreditation.

        • Comment by Narcisse Dansou:

          John:

          It is probably too late for a response to your comment and I am sorry for not addressing your inquiry much sooner. If given the choice between an online MBA and a classroom MBA, I will almost always opt for the latter. It’s my opinion that a traditional MBA, in most cases, is more rigorous than a web based MBA. Furthermore a traditional MBA provides, in my opinion, better opportunities to network with classmates and professors. Again, in my opinion, the AACSB accreditation is losing its cache because more and more average colleges of business are receiving it. Before enrolling in any university program, it is important that you first conduct some due diligence. I hope this helps.

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