By BECKY GILLETTE
Accounting graduates in Mississippi are in high demand for good-paying jobs that involve more than just figures and calculations.
“It is not just crunching numbers. We do a lot of focusing on critical thinking, analytical skills, technology, technical skills and communication,” said Marv Bouillon, Jerold J. Morgan Professor of Accounting and director, School of Accountancy, The University of Southern Mississippi (USM). “The accounting positions require a very diverse set of skills any more. Data analytics is becoming important in the accounting area.”
USM offers both an undergrad and graduate program, a Master’s of Professional Accountancy (MPA). Currently USM has about 325 accounting majors between the Hattiesburg and Long Beach campuses, and 25 students in the MPA program.
Starting salaries are good. Bouillon said MPAs are seeing starting salaries in the range of $50,000 to $60,000 per year. “For the State of Mississippi, that is really a good salary,” he said.
They have a 100 percent job placement rate for MPA graduates, and have done so for the past four or five years.
“In the world of accountancy, if you want to be a CPA, you need to get 150 hours of college credit,” Bouillon said. “You can get 150 hours in a number of ways, but need to have a certain number of accounting and business course hours. Our best students tend to go on for a fifth year to do the MPA program. Therefore, they come out with both an undergrad degree and a master’s degree.”
If a student starts out pursuing another degree, depending on when they change over to accountancy, they may end up with 150 hours. Bouillon said it is also common for students to get a bachelor’s degree in another field, and come back to get an accounting degree because of prospects for better jobs with higher pay. Students who already have 150 hours upon completing their bachelor’s degree might not be good candidates for the MPA.
Bouillon said they really push Excel skills in their MPA program.
“When a student goes through the MPA program, they are required to get a certain level of certification in Excel, a spreadsheet program used widely in accounting,” Bouillon said. “I know some of our students work with Tableau, which another type of software to analyze data. In my advanced cost accounting class, I had my students get Bloomberg certification.”
With a tight job market overall in the U.S., skilled employees like those with an accounting degree are in high demand and often have more than one job to choose from. One of the things USM does to help students find opportunities is an accounting career fair called “Meet the Firms” that is held each fall.
“This year we ended up getting 30 plus firms and more than 150 students who attended,” Bouillon said. “Both of those were record numbers. We expect our career fair to be even bigger this year. A lot are CPA firms. But some of the other firms that were there include government offices and manufacturing firms. The Mississippi Society of CPAs was there promoting their group, and talking to students about accounting careers and becoming CPAs.”
When Bouillon was in college, accounting was a male-dominated profession. Women made up only 10-20 percent of the students.
“Now more than 50 percent of our graduates are female,” he said. “It is an area where I would say females do as well as male students, if not a little better at times. To me it is a great field for female students to be in and a great field to be able to move up in the profession.”
Shawn Mauldin, director of Adkerson School of Accountancy at Mississippi State University (MSU), also estimated that more than half of its students are female. Both men and women have caught on to the fact that accountancy is one of the better degrees regarding job prospects.
“We have extremely high placement rates in the School of Accountancy,” Mauldin said. “We’ve been fortunate the past several years to have near 100 percent placement of our students. This year we were in a situation of not having enough students to meet employer demand. It is an exceptional job market for accounting students and one that does not appear to be slowing down. Students are going to work for the big accounting firms, businesses and industry including Fortune 500 companies. I think students recognize early in their academic studies that if they successfully complete the program, they are going to be employable. Parents recognize this as well. It is not a situation of them having to struggle to get a job.”
Data analytics and technology are changing the accounting profession including reducing the time it takes to do audits and other complex accounting tasks. But that is not expected to make a big dent in the need for accountants.
“A lot of the work accountants are doing the first year or so will most likely be taken over by technology,” Mauldin said. “All of the firms I talk with say this is not going to end need for entry level accountants. Students will, however, enter the firm at a higher level of responsibility that will add more value to their clients sooner than they would have before.”
MSU has integrated technology and data analytics throughout their accounting curriculum. A minor in business analytics is also available at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
“Technology will continue to be a focus of the accounting programs at MSU,” Mauldin said. “In fact, we are one of the few schools that offer two accounting information courses at the undergraduate level.”
Keeping students up-to-date in emerging technologies is important for them to remain competitive.
“We are certainly staying on top of our curricula to make sure our students have the latest skills they need to be successful,” Mauldin said. “Accounting is still a highly sought-after degree, and I think that is going to continue. Unfortunately, some students entering college don’t understand what they can do with an accounting degree. If you look at the success of our alumni, it quells any concern about accounting being a mundane job that only involves sitting behind a desk all the time. A degree in accounting provides students with excellent career options.”
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