On any given day, the accounting positions on HigherEdJobs.com are usually in the highest tier of full-time faculty positions available for any business or nonbusiness discipline. At the same time, applicants available to fill these roles are in short supply. For example, the AICPA’s most recent report indicates stagnant enrollments in accounting PhD programs from the 2006/07 to the 2014/15 academic years, with a dip to slightly below 2003/04 levels in the 2015/16 academic year (2017 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits,http://bit.ly/2P5BuQJ). Furthermore, the average age of tenured accounting faculty members is 60, suggesting that these faculty members are near retirement (Steve Matzke, “A Ph.D. for Me? Really?” AICPA e-newsletter, http://bit.ly/2KME0qW). The annual demand for new public accountants, which has hovered at approximately twice 2004 levels in recent years, augments the problematic nature of these trends in the supply of accounting faculty, who are needed to educate the next generation of accountants (AICPA 2017). In sum, the undersupply of full-time accounting faculty members in the United States is commonly considered to be a critical problem.
Faculty practitioners represent a logical source for filling this faculty shortage, especially because accounting students are likely to benefit from insights gained in professional practice. Research and commentary on hiring accounting practitioners in academia has already explored several avenues, including the transition from practitioner to professor, advice for recruiting practitioners into academia, and suggestions for developing more flexible PhD programs for practitioners (Jessie George, “From Practitioner to Professor: What I Learned in My First Years of Being a Professor,” The CPA Journal, September 2017, http://bit.ly/2KMOI0L; Lea Hart, “Advice for Hiring Accounting Faculty,” Journal of Accountancy e-newsletter, Feb. 13, 2018, http://bit.ly/2zfITlP; R. David Plumlee and Philip M. J. Reckers, “Lessons Not Learned: Why Is There Still a Crisis-Level Shortage of Accounting PhDs?,” Accounting Horizons, June 2014, http://bit.ly/30nQtHa).
Research offers little insight, however, into why practitioners join academia. Information about which practitioners may be interested in joining academia tends to relate to a set of demographic factors, such as having prior teaching experience, holding a master’s degree, and having been a consultant (Douglas M. Boyle, Brian W. Carpenter, Dana R. Hermanson, and Michael O. Mensah, Understanding the Accounting Faculty Shortage: The Perceptions of Practitioners, IMA, 2006, http://bit.ly/2MxUup8). Current research is also primarily based on the viewpoints of practitioners with an interest in full-time teaching, rather than on those who have accepted such an opportunity. This article provides the results of a survey investigating how full-time faculty practitioners conceptualize their decision to join academia.
To understand why practitioners join academia fulltime, the authors identified 767 faculty members who were most likely to be full-time faculty practitioners by cross-referencing the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business’s (AACSB) list of 168 institutions accredited in accounting and business with the American Association of Accounting’s (AAA) faculty directory. AACSB accreditation in accounting was selected to allow for a reasonable mix of both institutional variability and consistency. Participants were initially identified through a review of job titles at each institution (e.g., faculty of practice, clinical faculty member, instructor, lecturer) and practical considerations, such as being available for contact (e.g., continued employment). Participants were further screened to ensure that they worked fulltime, had professional experience in accounting, and were not temporarily in a practitioner role due to being a full-time PhD student. A total of 125 participants met these criteria and completed the survey.
It is not known how many of the initial population of 767, surveyed during November–December 2018, would have qualified, but the authors estimate that the response rate was a minimum of 17.52%. Participants responded to 15 questions about their demographics, backgrounds, and institutions. They also answered 43 questions related to their decisions to work in academia. These questions were developed based on—
- feedback from practitioners;
- motivation-hygiene theory (Vincent C. Brenner, Claude W. Carmack, and Mark G. Weinstein, “An Empirical Test of the Motivation-Hygiene Theory,” Journal of Accounting Research, Autumn 1971, http://bit.ly/2TSEGy0; Frederic Herzberg, Bernard Mausner, and Barbara B. Snyderman, The Motivation to Work, John Wiley & Sons, 1959);
- McClelland’s trichotomy of needs (David C. McClelland, The Achieving Society, Van Nostrand, 1961; Donna L. Street and Ashton C. Bishop, “An Empirical Examination of the Need Profiles of Professional Accountants,” Behavioral Research in Accounting, 1991); and
- Porter’s concept of need satisfaction (Charles G. Carpenter and Robert H. Strawser, “A Study of the Job Satisfaction of Academic Accountants,” Accounting Review, July 1971, http://bit.ly/2P3Qqif; Lyman W. Porter, “A Study of Perceived Need Satisfaction in Bottom and Middle Management Jobs,” Journal of Applied Psychology, February 1961, http://bit.ly/33QVFoX).
Participants represented a wide range of institutions; 65% described their institutions as research intensive, and 46% described their institutions as teaching oriented, with these categories not being mutually exclusive. Participants were distributed according to urban area (51%), suburban area (33%), and rural area (16%). As Exhibit 1 illustrates, participants worked at institutions with diverse enrollment sizes, with the most frequent being 15,000 to 29,999 students (38%).
Fifty-nine percent of respondents were female, 39% were male, and 2% preferred not to indicate. All participants had professional accounting experience. Those with experience in public accounting (85%) tended to have up to five years of experience (52%); however, 27% reported having more than 15 years of experience. Those with experience in industry or government accounting (83%) tended to have more than 15 years of experience (48%). Exhibit 2 illustrates participants’ number of years of work experience in higher education, with 6–10 years being the most frequent experience level (38%).
All but three faculty practitioners (98%) had at least one professional certification, with a CPA (87%) being most common. Practitioners’ high level of certification is quite a departure from the downward trend in certification observed among academic faculty as whole (David J. Emerson and Kenneth J. Smith, “The Value of Certification and Professional Experience: Perceptions of Accounting Faculty and Business School Deans,” The CPA Journal, September 2018, http://bit.ly/2Z307SN). Thus, practitioners’ certification levels appear to offer a significant contribution to the professional stance of academic faculty.
The majority of participants (58%) earned at least one degree from their current employer. The highest degree held was a bachelor’s degree for 12% of participants, a master’s degree for 70%, a law degree for 5%, and a doctoral degree for 13%. The most common type of master’s degree was a master’s of accountancy (57%) or a master’s of business administration (31%). The majority of participants who held a doctoral degree had earned a PhD in accounting (59%).
What motivated faculty practitioners to join academia?
Initially, an open-ended question was asked to avoid guiding practitioners to any particular answer about why they joined academia. The authors coded the open-ended responses as shown in Exhibit 3. The predominant answers (combined 59%) were intrinsic motivators, namely “love of teaching and learning” (32%) and “to give back to the next generation” (27%). The position’s work-life balance was the other most frequent response (27%).
Next, to develop a clearer picture of how faculty practitioners conceptualize whether to pursue a job in higher education, the authors conducted factor analysis. This analysis evaluated how the practitioners categorized a host of considerations related to pursuing a faculty position. Exhibit 4 provides details of the results of this analysis. To summarize, practitioners appeared to organize their decisions into four main categories: intrinsic rewards, extrinsic factors, pathways to advancement, and job manageability. Intrinsic rewards included such considerations as the desire to teach, the sense of accomplishment, and the nature of the work itself. Many of the other intrinsic rewards tended to be highly altruistic, such as the desire to help others and to train the next generation. Extrinsic considerations can be characterized as the broad benefits derived from working for the university. These considerations range from intangibles (e.g., being associated with their university’s reputation) to the university’s environment (location, community) to more concrete considerations (salary). Pathways to advancement included rapport with the department head (likely needed for advancement), opportunity for feedback and development, perceptions about being acknowledged for accomplishments, and speculations about opportunities for promotion. Job manageability encompassed such factors as perceived job flexibility, work-life balance, autonomy, and stress levels.
How Do Faculty Practitioners Conceptualize the Decision to Join Academia? (Mean, Standard Deviation)
Faculty practitioners ranked the order of impact of these four categories on their job decision on a 7-point scale (1 = very negative, 7 = very positive). Job manageability ranked highest (mean ranking, 6.01), intrinsic rewards second (5.95), extrinsic rewards third (4.96), and pathways to advancement fourth (4.37). Differences between means for each category were statistically significant.
While Exhibit 4 offers insight for identifying considerations that practitioners viewed favorably when deciding to pursue teaching in academia, it may be equally useful to understand the considerations that initially deterred them. These included lacking the desire to be in an administrative role, salary, and opportunities for advancement. Fortunately, avoiding an administrative role is likely possible for all types of faculty members; however, both salary considerations and lack of opportunities for advancement (which might alleviate salary deficiencies) are not. The fact that only 2% of the participants were tenured or on the tenure track drives home the point that faculty practitioners usually do not have the opportunity to advance.
In terms of salary, 10% did report earning a higher salary in academia than in professional practice, and 12% earning at about the same level; however, 77% reported having a lower salary than in professional practice. (Approximately 1% preferred not to answer.) The decrease in salary was generally substantial; only 2% of those with a salary differential reported a decrease of 10%, 19% reported decreases of 11%–25%, 31% reported decreases of 26%–50%, 22% reported decreases of 51%–75%, and 26% reported decreases of more than 76%.
Understanding how faculty practitioners are likely to organize their thoughts about joining academia also assists in evaluating these positions’ appeal to various demographic groups. For example, one might think job manageability is a more attractive characteristic for women because they have historically been the main care providers for their families. Women did score the items “work-life balance” and ”fit with personal or family needs” as having a “very positive” or “positive” impact on their job choice (93% and 79%, respectively); corresponding percentages for men were 78% and 69%. Mean differences by gender in these items were statistically significant. The analysis suggests, however, that neither women nor men consider these categories as isolated; instead, they think about them as subcomponents of a larger construct of job manageability. Overall, there was no significant difference in how male and female practitioners evaluated the larger construct of job manage-ability in their decisions to pursue a career in higher education. This finding suggests that “work-life balance” and “fit with personal or family needs” do not dominate female practitioners’ overall perceptions of job manageability.
Similarly, location and community might be expected to dominate alumni’s decisions to work at a university they attended. It is true that 61% of alumni stated that location had at least a somewhat positive impact on their employment decisions, whereas only 36% nonalumni did so. Similarly, 54% of alumni stated their employers’ communities had at least a somewhat positive impact on their employment decisions; only 33% of nonalumni did so. Analysis suggests, however, that applicants do not view location and community as separate or distinct factors; instead, they are two subcomponents of a larger construct: extrinsic factors related to the position. Overall, there was no significant difference in how alumni and nonalumni evaluated extrinsic factors related to the position. This suggests that the favorability of location and community do not dominate alumni candidates’ decision-making processes.
What changes need to be made to recruit more accounting professionals into academia?
The authors categorized and coded an open-ended question about how to make a career in higher education more attractive to other accounting professionals (Exhibit 5). It is noteworthy that 10% of faculty practitioners felt that nothing about the position needed to be changed at all; however, the most frequent response (34%) was that increasing salary is necessary to attract more professionals into academia. Practitioners who cited this issue discussed the problem as it relates both to salary comparisons with traditional faculty members and to accounting professionals.
What Would You Change about Higher Education to Make It More Attractive to Practitioners? (Open-Ended)
The second most frequent area in need of improvement (32%) was the level of respect given to faculty practitioners. The concept of respect was broad; it included day-to-day treatment, being involved in decision making, reducing workloads to make them more equitable with those of traditional faculty positions, and increasing respect for teaching compared to research. Finally, 15% identified the need to strengthen the faculty practitioner career path as a detractor from joining academia. Again, this concept was broad and included providing clearer expectations, better training, eliminating a PhD as a barrier to entry and promotion, and improving the manageability of accreditation standards.
The results of this survey suggest several recommendations for recruiting more practitioners into higher education. First, it is important to remember that faculty practitioners are a very internally motivated group who prize altruism and other intangible factors. It may therefore be logical to work on the most intangible detractor first: lack of respect. It seems that in some circumstances, simply increasing day-to-day politeness would be a valuable step toward improving respect toward academic practitioners. Other approaches might be to be more inclusive; practitioners who are likely to be adept at developing exercises for bringing practice into the classroom could become valued members of curriculum committees and mentors to doctoral students, who are trying to learn to teach in a field largely dependent on practice.
Similarly, several aspects of strengthening the career path of faculty practitioners could also be tackled almost immediately, such as providing clearer expectations and training. Others, such as developing pathways for promotion, would require more time to develop and greater institutional changes. A viable approach may be to develop dual career tracks with progressive steps for both practitioners and traditional academics so that each has the opportunity to advance. Practitioners also expressed difficulties with being able to meet accreditation standards as part of their career path concerns. Consequently, universities might consider reevaluating the reasonableness of any in-house definitions they have set for these standards, as well as whether or not they are providing practitioners with the resources, time, and training necessary to meet accreditation requirements.
Practitioners’ compensation may be the most difficult factor to address, due to limitations in university funding, but addressing it does appear to be critical. Not only did practitioners mention salary most often in response to open-ended, nondirective questions on how to recruit more practitioners into academic, but compensation was also the lowest-ranked item on the extrinsic factors scale.
Finally, the results of this survey suggest that many faculty practitioners are alumni. Thus, universities might optimize the use of their alumni offices and networks for contacting potential applicants. It is, however, important to develop all aspects of the job offer equally well for alumni, as they appear to conceptualize the decision to pursue a faculty job opportunity in the same fashion as nonalumni do. In addition, because nonalumni do not rank location and community as high in terms of their decisions to join academia, universities might want to take additional steps to illustrate the attractiveness of these considerations to outside job candidates.
The authors would like to thank Timothy J. Burrows and Joseph R. Gearhart for their feedback on the survey design.