Addressing the Shortage of Faculty with PhDs in Accounting

SEPTEMBER 2007 - I would like to follow up on the article “Teaching for the Accounting Profession : CPAs and PhDs,” by Myrna L. Fischman (The CPA Journal, June 2007).

One statement presented early in that article caught my attention, not only for its clarity but for its forcefulness: “The practical aspects of the profession that a student may encounter need to be taught by the practicing CPA.” Additional points in the article recognize the role of PhDs in the field, but strongly suggest that teaching accounting in the academic world should be the domain of CPAs. This continues to be a very relevant topic because a great deal of literature indicates a nationwide shortage of faculty members who have a PhD in accounting. Some efforts underway to address the shortage deal with trying to have more academically talented students pursue a PhD degree, rather than move to the practice of accounting. However, the success of this effort is marginal at best.

An interesting data element that has been gathered by the American Accounting Association is that the most prevalent age of the current holders of PhDs in accounting is 63. As this group ages out, there will be a significant void to be filled. In the past few years, only about 200 PhD degrees in accounting have been awarded annually, nationwide. This dearth of degrees has some immediacy to it for nationally accredited accounting programs. Also, my analysis of the June 2007 “Listing of Doctoral Graduates by School,” maintained by James Hasselback, shows that for the years 2004 through 2007, there were 432 doctoral degrees listed; of those, 100 also had a CPA. Thus, many of the recent doctorally qualified faculty members do not possess the practical experience of those with the CPA credential.

As a somewhat radical approach to this problem, rather than asking, “How can we get more students to pursue the PhD?” can we rephrase the question to, “Can accredited programs be led by professionally qualified faculty?” According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and American Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) standards, professionally qualified faculty includes those who hold a master’s degree in accounting and a CPA credential.

I will readily admit that for the top-tier institutions that promote accounting research as an academic goal, having a faculty with PhD degrees is most useful and very appropriate. However, for institutions that do not promote research, but focus their efforts on teaching, I question whether a PhD degree is most useful. An institution that focuses on teaching rather than research, and has faculty members who are CPAs with practical experience in a variety of settings, would seem to be very viable because of the real-world examples the faculty members can bring to the classroom, and because of their enthusiasm to teach the material.

It seems to me that accrediting bodies such as the AACSB and ACBSP have created a problem by specifying an accrediting standard (PhD) when the supply of available faculty is ever decreasing. One possible approach is to soften the standard that they created. An outgrowth of the relaxed standard could be the movement of qualified accounting professionals from the practicing world to the academic world, without requiring them to spend up to four years getting a PhD degree that would allow them to progress in the academic world. It is acknowledged that in the higher-profile institutions, academic progress is measured starting with a PhD, and is the key to academic advancement. This completely ignores the experience that a practitioner has, as well as the CPA credential, focusing only on an academic achievement that may not really aid in the teaching aspect of academe.

One other avenue to consider is the ability of certain institutions to offer a PhD program on a part-time basis, or to consider a person’s work history, as a way to waive some of the academic requirements. If a PhD is still considered a necessity, something needs to be done to make it easier to obtain, especially for those with other professional qualifications and practical experience.

Thomas G. Amyot, CPA, CIA, CGFM
Associate Professor of Business
College of Saint Rose
Albany, N.Y.

The author responds

I thank you for your comments, and I agree with your insights. Many of the standards set forth by the AACSB and the ACBSP seem to ignore the clinical aspects of our profession. No one would expect surgery to be taught by a person who has only academic training and no practical application of the skills needed to be a practicing surgeon. This concept is their same for attorneys and dentists. In addition, my research has discovered that there are universities that accept students into their PhD in accounting programs without requiring any previous accounting courses, much less professional accounting experience. They do, however, require that applicants have quantitative knowledge. The losers in this environment are the CPA profession, the public, and our students.

In the most recent past, most if not all accounting professors were practicing CPAs. These CPAs practiced their profession as well as taught in universities. Some did have PhD degrees, most did not. As in any profession, it is most important to keep up with current developments and practices of the profession. The New York State Society of CPAs does recognize outstanding CPAs in education with the Dr. Emanuel Saxe Outstanding CPA in Education Award.

Perhaps it is time for the AACSB and the ACBSP to allow a more realistic relationship between the theoretical PhD and the clinical CPA professional as appropriate university educators.

Myrna L. Fischman, PhD, CPA
Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus, Brooklyn, N.Y.