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Deans report brisk demand for new accounting grads

If you are looking for evidence that the economy is improving, then the job market for new accounting graduates in Mississippi might be a good indicator. Deans of accounting at the state’s top three universities say that the job market for accounting graduates has improved—indicating that businesses that use accounting services are recovering from the recession.

“There has been more activity than I can ever remember with recruiting for internships for next year,” said Dr. Mark Wilder, dean of the University of Mississippi Patterson School of Accountancy. “It really started picking up some this past year evidenced by the fact this spring we had our largest intern class ever. All the activity this year has my head spinning a bit. Some of it is clearly that the economy in the nation is turning around. The firms had gotten pretty lean during the recession. All of the sudden when things start turning up, they have to work hard to ramp up their staff.”

Mississippi requires that students who take an exam to become a CPA must have 150 hours of college credits. That means that most accounting students attend school for five years, and graduate with a master’s degree. In their senior year, students do a paid internship at an accounting firm in the spring. It is common for interns to be offered a job after their internship, even though they won’t go to work for the firm until after graduating with their master’s degree.

“We have a very, very active internship program that then often translates into full time jobs,” Wilder said. “This spring, we had our biggest spring intern class ever. We had 77 students who interned. Interning is a great experience for the students. Of course, they have learned all the foundation and theory in class, but putting that all into practice is very different. Their perspective on everything after having done the internship is so much better. “

Wilder thinks interest in Ole Miss accounting students has also increased because the school was ranked tenth in the country recently by the Public Accounting Report.

Dr. Jim Scheiner, director of the Richard C. Adkerson School of Accountancy at Mississippi State University, reports a larger number of their students are getting multiple offers this year.

“My view is the economy is improving,” Scheiner said. “Basically, unless students have rather severe geographic restrictions, they will have multiple offers. This year there are a lot more people calling and saying, ‘We need more people than we anticipated. Who is available?’ A lot of students have job offers before graduation. In accounting, good students have decided before graduation where they are going to work.”

Scheiner said the new generation is looking at more than money when deciding where to work; they want to make sure they will be able to have a family and social life in addition to working.

“Accounting firms have become much better at balancing work life,” Scheiner said. “They really have.”

Kelly Atwood, senior coordinator, MSU Career Center, business and accounting, said accounting has been very fortunate to not be as hard a hit as some of the other industries as far as job placement during the recession. The number of opportunities in some of the other fields has declined.

Atwood said salaries for accounting grads haven’t been very affected.

“It depends on the level and the location where they are going, but right now starting salaries for accounting graduates are around $50,000 per year,” Atwood said. “That is about the same as it has been for a while.”

Atwood said accounting and other graduates of the school of business are in greater demand at present. There are more employers coming to interview, participating in career fairs, and posting job openings.

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) also reports increased interest in accounting grads. Dr. K.E. “Skip” Hughes, II, director of the USM School of Accountancy, said two years ago was the worst year. But even then, 85 percent of their accounting grads got jobs. In 2011, all but one student had a job upon graduating. Hughes expects to get 100 percent placement this year.

“Our placements have also included a significant number of job offer letters with Big Four accounting firms,” Hughes said. “The Big Four is looked upon as the elite of accounting. If you can place your students with them, you feel pretty good about your program. It shows the Big Four is hiring, and they are hiring our graduates, which is a good quality signal. Ole Miss and MSU are doing that same thing, placing a lot of graduates with the Big Four.”

From a national perspective, the accounting profession is expanding. Hughes said his expectation from talking to some of the senior partners at the Big Four accounting firms is that hiring is going to be ten to 15 percent more this year than in 2011. Gregory J. Anton, CPA, chairman board of directors, American Institute of CPAs, addressed USM students recently and said hiring was good this year, and there is every indication for it to be strong for the next two years.

Hughes said there is a trend for more financial regulation of companies in the U.S., which means more demand for accountants.

“Nationally, regionally and locally, we are seeing growth in employment,” Hughes said. “I’ve said this for the past year. For firms to be expanding public accounting clients, that means businesses are expanding. Someone has to pay for these services. I’m happy to say accounting is strong, and for the near term is going to have strong employment opportunities. Accounting is one of the top majors. The reason is students realize they will have employment opportunities. Enrollment in accounting nationally is at fairly high levels because students are recognizing this opportunity.”

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