The current shortage of accounting faculty at many colleges and universities has created an increasing number of opportunities for CPAs seeking to retire from professional practice and transition to academia. The authors provide insight into the process by sharing the story of a CPA who did just that, outlining his process and providing useful tips for CPAs starting their own journeys.* * *
A new reality is emerging in the composition of accounting faculty. The marketplace is changing, and CPAs with stellar careers are now finding colleges more receptive to including practitioners within an accounting program’s faculty. Life as a college instructor is not for every CPA, however. Among the challenges are the different emphases placed by the American Accounting Association (AAA) and the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) in promoting accounting practice and theory. Additionally, there are major differences between working in public accounting and joining a college faculty as a new instructor, including the possible need to obtain an advanced degree, generally lower salaries, fewer available support staff, and the academic requirement to publish.
Nevertheless, some CPAs consider teaching attractive after a long career in public accounting. Reasons may include 1) a desire to give back, 2) a search for greater personal satisfaction, 3) a new challenge, and 4) supplemental income.
Professionally Qualified Faculty
The importance of including CPA practitioners in college classrooms—“professional qualified” faculty, as explained below—cannot be overstated. As members of the faculty, experienced CPAs add real world credibility and can become inspirational role models to bright students considering careers in accounting. In the current environment, this can be a win-win for both the CPA and the college: “Many studies document a severe shortage of accounting PhDs and this shortage is expected to grow … Data from studies conducted from 2003–2008 suggested that the supply of PhD students in auditing and tax would meet only 22.8% of the demand in auditing and 27.1% in tax. This shortage translates into plentiful job opportunities” (Jun Li, “Urgent Need for Accounting PhDs,” Beta Alpha Psi Epsilon Alpha, Apr. 21, 2014, http://bit.ly/29J2nDP).
The importance of including CPA practitioners in college classrooms cannot be overstated.
A few elite private business schools are immune to shortages of doctoral faculty because of their superior brand name and strong financial position. Most business schools, however, either cannot afford the starting salaries in the PhD marketplace or do not want to deal with the ripple effects they would have on the remainder of the faculty salary structure (Sustaining Scholarship in Business Schools, AACSB International, 2003, http://bit.ly/29Xx0Hs). For AACSB accreditation, programs must maintain a proper balance between doctoral qualified and nondoctoral faculty. The current realities encourage a more favorable consideration of “scholarly practitioners” and “instructional practitioners” (Eligibility Procedures and Accreditation Standards for Business Accreditation, AACSB International, Jan. 31, 2016, http://bit.ly/2907Uly).
A November 2006 AACSB white paper asserted that “PQ faculty members are important contributors to the mission of AACSB schools as part of the overall faculty complement along with appropriate AQ faculty … PQ faculty will continue to grow in importance as the supply of new doctoral graduates remains flat or declines” (“Deploying Professionally Qualified Faculty: An Interpretation of AACSB Standards,” November 2006, http://bit.ly/29wUkaW). A 2012 study by Megan Martin of Virginia Tech found that nondoctoral (PQ) faculty grew by 7%, whereas doctoral qualified (AQ) faculty declined by 5% (“A Shortage in Business Doctoral Candidates in Academia: Contributing Factors, Impact on Academia and Remediation,” 2015, http://bit.ly/29BSKmM).
The Pathways Commission on Accounting Higher Education was even more emphatic. Acknowledging that academia is not without fault in the lack of a consistent, mutually productive relationship between the practice community and academia, it recommended that “more institutions, possibly through new accreditation standards, engage more practitioners as executives in residence in the classroom. These individuals can provide a different perspective on various topics and thus might better explain what they do, how they do it, and why they do it” (Charting A National Strategy for the Next Generation of Accountants, July 2012, http://bit.ly/29J3WSt).
Not everyone with subject matter expertise is good at transferring that knowledge to someone else.
Profile: From CPA Partner to College Faculty
Coauthoring this article is a former CPA partner, Ted Browning, with more than three decades of experience in public accounting, including Big Four experience, who recently joined the faculty of an AACSB accredited school of accounting. His journey is a model for others interested in making the transition. Browning recommends four steps CPAs should consider when making this decision.
Typical Adjustments for Accounting Practitioners Becoming College Instructors
- Education—one will probably need a master’s degree as a minimum
- Compensation—the salary may be significantly lower
- Research—publishing is essential for faculty positions at ranks above instructor
- Station—one’s role changes from partner to inexperienced new faculty
- Subject matter—it will be necessary to teach introductory courses with higher course loads
- Support staff—there will be fewer opportunities to delegate tasks
Step 1: Decide if Teaching Is a Good Fit
Not everyone with subject matter expertise is good at transferring that knowledge to someone else. First and foremost, teaching requires people skills. Browning’s first interest in teaching as a career occurred as a young chief warrant officer in the U.S. Army with an assignment as a helicopter instructor pilot. He found the role of teaching new helicopter pilots key aspects of flying challenging, fascinating, and fun. He enjoyed helping others learn to do something and felt a sense of reward when his students succeeded. During Browning’s time in public accounting, his firm further supported his interest in teaching by giving him opportunities to lead conferences and engage in the recruiting process. With increased seniority, he was appointed to three university advisory boards, where he developed further insight into the opportunities and challenges of higher education. All of this contributed to his desire to teach accounting at the university level.
Step 2: Experiment with Teaching a College Course
Browning strongly believed in obtaining real teaching experience well in advance. With 10 years to go before reaching his firm’s retirement age, he had an opportunity to teach entry-level accounting at a respected local two-year college. This was the perfect opportunity to see if teaching would really provide the anticipated sense of reward. From the beginning, he loved being in the classroom, and he knew he had made the right choice.
Step 3: Plan for the Career Transition
Although Browning’s firm had a mandatory retirement age, he never intended to stop working when he reached that age. Instead, he began to see the potential for a career change into a college setting as something that he could do well and would find rewarding. During his planning phase, he learned that to be credible in a college environment, the expectation for AACSB-accredited programs is that CPAs hired as scholarly practitioner (SP) or instructional practitioner (IP) faculty would normally have a master’s degree in a field related to the area of teaching. Thus, he enrolled in a part-time master’s program to earn a graduate degree over four years. Because many students now routinely earn graduate level degrees before entering the profession, however, this may not be an issue for some. Nevertheless, one is advised to start the planning process at least three to five years in advance.
The academic community has challenges, rewards, and opportunities that are different than, but not inferior to, being an accountant in public practice.
If a potential faculty member does not have a master’s degree, a college must make the case that she is an SP or an IP based upon professional experience of significant depth, duration, sophistication, and complexity. Such cases should be limited in number (AACSB International, 2016).
In addition, Browning was advised during his planning phase to attend the AACSB Bridge Program. This intensive five-day program is designed to help professionals with practice experience transition into a teaching role. The program focuses on four learning outcomes:
- Creating an engaging and motivating learning environment
- Gaining insight into planning, organizing and delivering courses
- Developing class management techniques and teaching skills that inspire and mentor students
- Finding out if the classroom is the right fit by recognizing the differences between academic and corporate careers.
More than 360 people have graduated from the AACSB Bridge Program since its inception in 2006. AACSB-accredited institutions that have hired graduates of this program include Boston College, Columbia University, Georgetown University, Indiana University, James Madison University, Johns Hopkins University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State University, Seton Hall University, Texas A&M University, Universität Mannheim, University of Calfornia–Irvine, University of Southern California, University of Texas, and Vanderbilt University (various copies of AACSB Newsroom, 2011 to 2015).
Step 4: Network
Browning recommends networking in places where it is possible to meet college faculty. In addition to the AAA and AACSB, he participated in his state CPA society’s educator programs. This was done partly for the program content, but even more to connect with the people, learn about their challenges and successes, and get to know the people who might become his co-workers. The academic community has challenges, rewards, and opportunities that are different than, but not inferior to, being an accountant in public practice—educators are not retirees. Responding to advice he received, Browning joined the AAA to network among educators at prospective places where he might want to teach. At the time of his initial discussions, his goal was to find a two-year college where he could teach. As conversations developed, however, he learned that his experience might be more valuable in a university setting.
Experienced professionals have much to give to and much to learn from students—not unlike working with clients.
In addition, he shared his resume with several people he thought might be helpful, including his own auditing professor at his alma mater, the University of Maryland, where he served on the advisory board and knew most of the faculty. Not long after, Browning received a call from the chair of the accounting and information assurance department, offering him an adjunct position teaching cost accounting. By continuing to stay in touch, Browning learned of an opportunity that would be a good fit for him.
Today, Browning has a full-time faculty position with James Madison University’s school of accounting and plans to continue teaching there until he retires for good. From his perspective, the journey from private practice to college faculty demonstrates that experienced professionals have much to give to and much to learn from students—not unlike working with clients.