UConn Accounting Program, Students in High Demand
By David Bauman
efying a trend of falling accounting enrollments at many colleges and universities nationwide, UConn's School of Business is attracting record numbers of new accounting students with a program designed around the "real" world of business.
A 25 percent drop in national enrollments in college accounting programs since 1996 - meaning that about 10,000 fewer accounting graduates enter the workforce - has many accounting firms facing a shrinking pool of qualified candidates.
But with 330 undergraduate majors, 100 master's degree candidates, and seven active Ph.D. candidates this semester, UConn's accounting program enrollments are the largest ever.
And as national and regional accounting firms sent teams to Storrs this week to recruit students for summer internships, it was evident that many UConn accounting majors feel bullish about their futures, despite the nation's limping economy and lean job market.
"I've had friends laughing at me for being dressed up all week," said Jonathan Perugini, a junior. Perugini, looking businesslike in a three-piece suit, was waiting for an interview with recruiters from McGladrey & Pullen, a national public accounting firm with branches in Connecticut.
Gaining experience as an intern may help students find a full-time job. "While a full-time job is not guaranteed, if you do well you're often invited back," said Kristin Lombardo, a junior.
Dick Kochanek, professor and head of the accounting department, said the reasons for the increase in enrollment include stability and opportunity. "There will always be a need for accountants, and the major gives you options to so many other interesting careers," he said.
The accounting program graduates between 100 and 120 accounting majors each year. Of these, more than 90 percent have jobs within three months of graduation, with starting salaries of $40,000 or more.
UConn has become a target recruiting school for all the "Big 5" accounting firms - Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte & Touche, Arthur Andersen, and KPMG - and other national and regional public accounting firms.
"We are the No. 1 supplier of accounting majors in the state," Kochanek said. "With the overall reduction in the number of accounting graduates, we see this supply/demand continuing. There are simply too many jobs chasing too few people."
Each year about 70 percent of UConn's undergraduate accounting majors gain internship experience with Connecticut companies. The internships allow students to get on-the-job paid experience that is relevant and rigorous, and benefit the employers as well as the students. This year, 88 juniors have had paid internships in public accounting and industry in the fall or spring semester.
"There is so much demand for these students," Kochanek said, "that some were offered a $1,500 signing bonus just to intern."
Professional recruiters agree. Darrell Pataska, a partner at Arthur Andersen in Hartford, called UConn an "absolute must-stop" for recruiters.
Another reason for the program's success, Kochanek suggested, is that "after sitting in class, students can go home and begin to apply what they learned that night. It's satisfying to students to apply what they learn right away."
This "immediacy of learning" has been applied to the classroom. Orientation for all UConn accounting students begins at the undergraduate level with a program Kochanek developed called "Introduction to a Profession."
Recognized by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the American Accounting Profession as one of the most innovative college accounting courses in the nation, the one-credit, five-night seminar exposes students to a smorgasbord of interesting careers, ranging from financial analysts to revenue agents.
The class gives students the opportunity to interact with approximately 40 different accountants at various stages in their accounting careers. The accountants, many of whom are UConn alumni, share a variety of experiences, ranging from what they would have done differently when searching for a job to the pros and cons of working in different sized firms.
In addition, instead of learning how to surf through balance sheets, income statements, and cash flows from textbooks and lectures, the students delve into the finances of a Connecticut-based company that agrees to open its books for the class. Then the company's management and independent auditors are invited to campus for a mock shareholders meeting, where the students use their newly developed accounting skills to ask tough questions.
One student who took the course in the fall, junior Angela Damalas, was an education major but switched to accounting after taking the seminar. "I loved the course," she said. "It showed me that accounting is a job where you work with other people in an advisory role to solve problems."