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Entry-level accountants in tremendous demand, says UM accountancy chair

Accounting grads see wide range of opportunities

It’s not a bad time to be an accountant in Mississippi. University and employment officials agree that the employment outlook is great for this year’s accounting graduates.

Currently, there are 4,090 persons employed as accountants and auditors in Mississippi, according to estimates by the Department of Employment Security. The average salary for entry-level positions is $29,500. The annual salary for other accounting positions is $49,160 and $58,980 for experienced accountants.

“The job outlook for this occupation in Mississippi is predicted to be 255 openings annually,” said Wayne Gasson, chief of labor market information for the department. “That’s a good outlook for accounting graduates.”

At the University of Mississippi, 125 students will receive bachelor degrees and 72 will receive master’s this May. Dr. Morris Stocks, chairman of the School of Accountancy, says enrollment in this major is at an all-time high.

“There’s a tremendous demand right now for entry-level accountants,” he said. “Our graduates will have no difficulty finding jobs.”

He and officials at other schools acknowledged that many graduates will remain in school to obtain master’s degrees to prepare to sit for the certified public accountant (CPA) examination. Out of all Ole Miss graduates, about 70% go into public accounting and about 10% go to law school. The remainder go to work for firms such as Federal Express, whose headquarters in nearby Memphis is a big draw.

“Most of our graduates stay in the state, in Memphis or throughout the Southeast,” Stocks said. “A large number are going to work for regional and local accounting firms, and we have more wanting to stay in Mississippi than we once did. I think the recent accounting scandals led to new regulations, and that’s given impetus to the increase in the demand for entry-level accountants.”

Many of this year’s 30 to 40 accounting graduates from Mississippi College already have jobs in an extremely good market, according to Dr. Marcelo Eduardo, dean of the School of Business.

“The larger public accounting firms in Jackson are a major source of employment,” he said. “The State Tax Commission and other governmental agencies are also a consistent source of employment. I believe that as a consequence of Katrina and the reconstruction that is and will take place, we will also see additional demand for accounting and business graduates.”
Mississippi College and other schools interviewed have career centers that assist students with job searches. “The School of Business has a full-time coordinator,” Eduardo said. “This office is in charge of bringing employers to our campus so they can interview our students. It also connects our students with other job opportunities that may not require a campus interview. An intranet site is provided where job openings are posted, and students can post their resumes for employers to review.”

Dr. Luther Epting is the director of Mississippi State University’s (MSU’s) Career Center where he feels they run one of the best such centers in the country. The center provides resume critiques, career days and a Web-based system for job applications among other services.

“We see an extremely strong demand for accounting graduates, particularly for top students. The good, solid A and B students are getting good offers,” he said. “It’s a good time to be an accounting graduate for the offers made and the compensation packages. We see a wide range of salaries that depend on where graduates go.”

There are a lot of training programs offered to graduates, too, both in state and out of state. “Right now, it’s a graduate market. Three to five years ago it was tight, but the economy is better and that has improved the employment outlook,” he added.

Epting also thinks the accounting scandals have influenced the demand for accountants. “We’re seeing more attention focused on accountants and seeing firms use outside firms more for accounting and auditing work, especially large companies,” he said.

MSU expects to graduate approximately 80 accounting undergraduate students and 40 masters students this term, according to Dr. Danny Hollingsworth, director of the School of Accountancy.

“Of the undergraduate students, over half will enter graduate school with the remainder entering the workforce in accounting or other fields,” he said. “Our recruiters tell us they need to hire more accountants. High-performing undergraduates seem to find employment easily.

“The demand for our master’s, master of professional accountancy and master of taxation graduates is especially high. All but a few students in our master’s programs have jobs before graduation. In fact, many have jobs before entering graduate school and will begin work upon completion of the degree.”

Hollingsworth noted that the recruiting process starts early with students who choose to serve one of three types of internship programs. “They typically have job offers upon completion of the internship,” he said. “In recent years, interest in our internship programs has increased.”

Patty Munn has been a faculty member in the School of Accountancy at the University of Southern Mississippi since 1985 and works as a liaison with students to help them find employment.

“Most of those graduating this year have already found jobs,” she says. “A lot of good students go on and get master’s and a lot go to work for the big four accounting firms in New Orleans and Jackson. We also have students who get jobs with local and regional industry such as Sanderson Farms and the Entergy Corporation. Plus, a lot do public accounting work and then go to work for industry.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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