Adjunct faculty positions are a good way for professionals to begin a career in academia. The opportunities for CPAs to teach at this level are many—ranging from local community colleges to postgraduate programs at prestigious universities. The authors outline the requirements for each level of teaching and weigh the pros and cons for CPAs considering such a career change.
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The following is a typical employment ad that might be found in the Chronicle of Higher Education (http://www.chronicle.com) or Higher Ed Jobs (http://www.higheredjobs.com): “The Department of Accounting has an ongoing need for highly qualified adjunct faculty to staff a variety of courses each semester at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Duties and responsibilities include teaching a specified course, preparing necessary materials, providing support and guidance to students, and reporting grades. Minimum Qualifications: Master’s degree in accounting or a closely related field. Preferred Qualifications: ABD or PhD in accounting or a closely related field, previous teaching experience, and a willingness to be flexible in class scheduling.”
This article considers the shortage of accounting faculty and the phrase “qualified adjunct faculty,” looking at the requirements as specified by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). It then examines a sample checklist a college might use to determine if a faculty member is qualified and explores the pros and cons of teaching at four types of institutions, and suggests how CPAs can begin seeking an adjunct teaching position.
Qualified Adjunct Faculty
The simplest definition of an adjunct faculty member is an instructor who teaches part-time at a postsecondary institution. A fuller definition comes from the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Adjunct Project: “Adjunct faculty consists of faculty, lecturers, and instructors who do not hold permanent or full-time positions.” Adjunct faculty can teach from one to six classes per semester, typically one or two. An adjunct faculty member usually does not possess a PhD; instead, the norm is a master’s degree, professional credentials, and recent relevant work experience.
Adjuncts are paid per course or per credit hour where total earnings vary based on workload. Readers interested in a detailed salary analysis can refer to the Adjunct Project website (http://adjunct.chronicle.com/), which provides information about adjunct salaries, benefits, and working conditions across the United States.
Shortage of Accounting Faculty and Requirements to Obtain an Adjunct Position
It is generally agreed that there is an acute shortage of accounting faculty at all levels of higher education. A 2010–2011 survey completed by the American Accounting Association showed 284 open positions for accounting professors, the most for any business discipline. The same survey showed 574 expected retirements of accounting faculty within five years, more than one for each of the 546 schools surveyed (Kevin Eigelbach, “Adding It Up: Shortage of Accounting Professors Means More Expense in Store for Local Universities,” Louisville Business First, Jan. 11, 2013, http://bit.ly/29ffGIg).
The authors reviewed 30 recent higher education job postings under the category “adjunct/part-time” and found that 63% required a master’s degree, 20% required or preferred a PhD, and 17% did not provide an education requirement. Some postings required a DBA or JD in lieu of a PhD. In addition, most of the job postings preferred or required professional certification (e.g., CPA, CMA, CIA, CFE) and significant experience in the area of the courses to be taught. Communication, interpersonal, and organizational skills were prevalent in the listed job requirements, and previous teaching was preferred for virtually all adjunct positions. A relatively new addition to the desired skill set found in the listings was a strong technology background, including familiarity with Learning Management Systems (LMS) and online teaching experience. These skills would greatly improve opportunities for those seeking a teaching position.
While the job postings included required and preferred criteria, some criteria may not be mandatory. When a department chair or dean needs to fill a teaching position close to the start of the semester, preferences, and even requirements, might be relaxed.
The Accrediting Agency Impact on Adjunct Faculty Hires
The AACSB is an organization that accredits collegiate business programs and accounting programs within business schools. Two-year colleges and many four-year colleges do not hold AACSB accreditation. In fact, less than 5% of the world’s business programs maintain this accreditation, yet it is viewed by many as a benchmark of quality. To achieve and maintain AACSB accreditation, certain requirements must be met, including faculty sufficiency and qualifications.
The AACSB has four categories of faculty. The first three categories (Scholarly Academic, Practice Academic, and Scholarly Practitioner) rely heavily on an earned doctoral degree or scholarly research activities. The fourth category, Instructional Practitioners (IP), includes faculty who typically began their careers in public accounting and sustain their currency and relevancy through continued professional experience and engagement. Most adjunct faculty would possess IP status. For more information on these categories, refer to AACSB Standard 15 (http://bit.ly/2907Uly).
The ACBSP also offers accreditation for business and accounting programs. Its focus is on teaching excellence rather than research; however, the ACBSP faculty standards do require faculty to possess a doctorate to be considered academically qualified (AQ) and a master’s degree to be professionally qualified (PQ).
Evaluating IP or PQ Qualifications
As mentioned above, IP faculty members of AACSB institutions and PQ faculty members from ACBSP schools typically begin their academic careers with an abundance of professional accounting experience. After becoming faculty members, they must augment this experience with scholarly or continued professional activities.
Exhibit 1 presents a typical checklist used by a college or university to evaluate whether a CPA is IP or PQ qualified. A version of this checklist has been used for several years at West Chester University of Pennsylvania and has been found very beneficial in meeting the needs of the adjunct faculty and accounting department while complying with accreditation standards.
Sample Instructional Practitioner (IP) Checklist
Marcia Walker, a hypothetical CPA with an MBA, is applying for an adjunct teaching position at Hometown University. In addition to providing her current résumé, Marcia was asked to complete Hometown University’s IP checklist. Marcia includes her audit experience with ABC Accounting Firm, an article she published in The CPA Journal, a financial report she prepared for and presented to the congregation of Good Church, and numerous CPE seminars she attended. It appears that Marcia can easily meet the 10-point threshold to be considered IP qualified. Note that if Marcia is hired for the current academic year, she will need to complete the checklist each year to verify that she is maintaining her credentials, experience, and qualifications for IP status. The following are some options to maintain her IP status:
- Attending seminars or classes to earn continuing professional education (CPE) credits at a level to maintain her professional CPA certification, expand her knowledge base, and maintain her currency and relevance
- Participating in business professional organizations and societies, or relevant participation on boards of directors
- Creating or delivering an executive education seminar or continuing education seminar
- Participating in professional events that maintain contact with business and organizational leaders
- Publishing editorials or articles in nationally recognized professional journals
- Writing a public or professional report
- Delivering invited professional speeches for regional or national professional organizations
- Completing a faculty internship working full-time with a company for a minimum period of five weeks.
Comparing Different Types of Colleges
Exhibit 2 lists the pros and cons of teaching at four types of colleges, based on the opinions of the authors and many years of teaching experience. These pros and cons are intended as general guidelines; exceptions can easily be found in each category. The colleges are categorized by the highest degree offered and by program accreditation. Colleges within each category differ as to the quality of instruction and the abilities of the students. For example, community colleges likely have the lowest SAT scores because of their open enrollment policies, but many outstanding students nevertheless go to community colleges. In addition, some four-year colleges may choose to seek accounting accreditation; others do not, while still having outstanding programs and students. Those considering an adjunct instructor position should evaluate the relative importance of the pros and cons at each level based on personal circumstances. What might be important to one individual may be of little importance to another.
Pros and Cons at Four Types of Colleges
Although the growth in community college populations since 2007 is slowing, it is still a logical first consideration for adjunct employment. Total fall enrollment in community colleges increased from 5.7 million in 2000 to over 8 million in 2012. In fact, according to the College Bound Network, 40% of the entire student body in higher education attends community colleges (Grace Chen, “Recap: The First Ever White House Summit on Community Colleges,” Community College Review, Oct. 13, 2010, http://bit.ly/292L3dQ).
According to a 2009 article at the Small Steps for Big Change website (“How to Get an Adjunct Position at a Community College,” http://bit.ly/29az8tH), adjunct faculty pay at community colleges depends on the education of the instructor. Generally, community college adjunct faculty instructors are paid $2,200 to $3,500 per course and receive no benefits other than the use of the college’s library and computer facilities. Adjunct professors teach at community colleges as a means of gaining teaching experience, for the love of teaching, and for the benefit of students. In addition, it might be easier to get an adjunct position in a community college than at any other level. A bachelor’s degree and CPA certificate or a master’s degree without certification might be sufficient to secure an adjunct teaching position, especially if one has appropriate work experience for the course one wishes to teach.
Adjunct professors teach at community colleges as a means of gaining teaching experience, for the love of teaching, and for the benefit of students.
Students attend community colleges for many reasons, the most common being that community colleges are generally more affordable than other colleges. Some hope to save money while attending the community college and then have the resources to complete their bachelor’s degree at a four-year college. Other students might be late bloomers who did not perform well in high school and may need to complete remedial reading or math courses and develop study skills in order to be successful at the four-year college level. While some of these students might blossom in accounting classes, others may need to be directed to different fields of study. One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching in a community college is the satisfaction one feels when students do well in class and are motivated to continue their education beyond the associate’s degree.
On the negative side, community colleges have historically been perceived as less academically rigorous and with lower student quality than four-year colleges (Grace Chen, “Second Rate? Community Colleges Fight Stereotypes,” Community College Review, Apr. 19, 2015, http://bit.ly/29uQMKl). In one survey, fewer than 40% of faculty members at two-year institutions said they were satisfied with the quality of their students, compared to 75.1% of professors at private universities, 51.7% at public universities, and 55.9% at private four-year colleges. Likewise, only 21.5% of community college professors said their students were well prepared academically, compared to nearly 45% at four-year private colleges and 36.5% at public universities (Doug Lederman, “Faculty Frets About Declining Student Quality,” Inside Higher Ed, Sept. 13, 2005, http://bit.ly/29kQvY9). The above stereotype is changing, however, as many community colleges are on the leading edge of education, particularly for new and emerging career areas that are experiencing explosive growth. In addition, in 2012, USA Today stated that a two-year degree may be more valuable to job seekers than a four-year degree (Paul Davidson, “Employment Surges for Community College Grads,” http://usat.ly/29uRqrb).
Finally, adjunct professors at community colleges may be restricted to teaching only introductory accounting courses, as many of the students take only the required accounting classes. Teaching at a community college is, however, a great way to obtain teaching experience, improve communication skills, and enhance one’s résumé so as to eventually teach at a four-year college. Some adjuncts may treasure the challenge and reward of turning students on to accounting, while others may be disappointed and quickly conclude the experience is not as rewarding as expected.
Four-year college offering only a bachelor’s degree (not AACSB/ACBSP accredited).
Students at a college that offers only a bachelor’s degree might be similar to the top half of the students attending community college. The variety of accounting courses offered will be greater than that found in a community college, which should be appealing to many CPAs. Compensation can be somewhat higher than at the community college level; the Adjunct Project shows a compensation range of $1,500 to $18,000 per course, depending on the candidate’s qualifications, the type of institution, its accreditation, and the course discipline ($18,000 per course is atypical; this instance was an executive PhD course). Because the college does not offer a master’s degree or AACSB/ACBSP accreditation, it may be easier to obtain an adjunct teaching position. A master’s degree and professional certification will likely be required, but other AACSB/ACBSP requirements might be relaxed. Practitioners who have some experience and the requisite professional certification but lack a PhD and research portfolio could find a position at a four-year nonaccredited college an excellent career opportunity.
Four-year college offering bachelor’s and master’s degree (AACSB/ACBSP accredited).
The requirements at this level are similar to that of a four-year college that offers only a bachelor’s degree. To meet or maintain accreditation, however, these colleges must hire faculty that meet AACSB/ACBSP standards. A practicing CPA should be able to meet the AACSB’s IP or the ACBSP’s PQ requirements. These colleges generally have higher admission requirements than those in the categories discussed above, and the students should accordingly be more skilled. A large variety of courses should be available for an adjunct to teach, including tax, auditing, and accounting information systems (AIS). Compensation should be on the higher end of the above-mentioned scale. Obtaining a position at this level is a realistic goal for an accountant with recent, substantial professional experience in terms of duration and level of responsibility.
Four-year college or university offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree (AACSB accredited).
Very few universities offer a doctoral degree in accounting; the AACSB website indicates that there are only four accounting PhD programs in New York. Therefore, it is unlikely that many CPAs would seek an adjunct teaching position at one of these universities. Master’s and doctoral courses are likely taught by full-time PhDs, and undergraduate classes are likely taught by doctoral students. The students should be very capable, the choice of courses to teach plentiful, and the compensation should be at the higher end of the scale. Those seeking the best students, the most prestigious position, and the highest compensation should focus on this level. But one should consider their interest and willingness to augment their experience with ongoing scholarly research before committing to this track.
How to Proceed
The authors suggest that CPAs interested in exploring the possibility of teaching as an adjunct accounting instructor take the following steps:
- Assess their educational background and professional experience and prepare an updated résumé
- Identify the college or university where they might like to teach
- Visit the college’s website and become familiar with its accounting program (curriculum, course offerings, faculty, and chairperson)
- Seek out alumni and others with direct knowledge of the college and the accounting program
- Get to know the accounting chair or faculty of the college through professional and social organizations
- Send an updated résumé to the accounting chairperson
- Arrange a meeting with the chairperson to determine her needs and to determine if the college is the right fit
- Offer to make a presentation to their accounting society or to teach a class or two
- Maintain contact with the chairperson to assess interest and ascertain which courses might need coverage.
As mentioned above, there is an acute shortage of accounting faculty. Hopefully, this article will help interested CPAs become qualified adjunct faculty members who make positive contributions to the accounting profession.