January 06, 2017 | Matt Kucinski

“Accounting” is typically associated with terms like balance sheets, number crunching or figures on a page.

But to Calvin College faculty members, it’s seen as a transformative practice that has the capacity to change things in the world.

“[It] is not simply a value-neutral technical routine dedicated to the reporting of objective facts, but is in fact a moral practice. Accountants make consequential choices about their representations of the financial performance of an organization and its parts,” wrote Calvin College business professors Jason Stansbury, Marilyn Stansbury and Debra Snyder in an article that appeared in the Journal of Markets & Morality.

“These representations require judgment, because the information available can typically be interpreted in multiple ways depending on the … professional’s assessment of its meaning or materiality … Moreover, these representations have significant implications for the lives of people …”

Expanding influence

Calvin College has been preparing its accounting students to think in this way for years—something that has been met with appreciation from employers and graduates alike. And the college is looking to expand its influence in the accounting industry in fall 2017 with the addition of a new masters program.

The new master of accounting (MAcc) program allows students to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in accounting within five years. The current 150-credit-hour five-year undergraduate bachelor’s of science in public accountancy (BSPA) degree is being replaced with minor revisions to Calvin’s existing four-year undergraduate bachelor’s of science in accountancy (BSA) degree and a new nine-month master’s of accounting degree. These revisions result in a minimal increase in the total number of credit hours previously required in the BSPA—essentially allowing students to earn their master’s degree in the same time frame needed to complete the former bachelor’s of science in public accountancy degree.

Responding to market demand

While Calvin’s increased influence in this field is seen as a motivation for adding a graduate-level degree, market demand and a shift in the scope and complexity of the CPA exam are seen as two main drivers behind the move. The college has responded to the market in recent years by making adjustments to its undergraduate courses to better prepare its students, but a feasibility study conducted by a national consultant indicates the time is ripe for Calvin to now offer a masters degree.

Sandra Richtermeyer, CPA, CMA, dean of the Manning School of Business at University of Massachusetts Lowell, conducted market research, had discussions with employers and current accounting majors at Calvin, and reviewed career development surveys with accounting firms that typically hire Calvin accounting graduates.

What she concluded in her report is that there is sufficient local, national and international demand for the MAcc program.

“I believe that Calvin’s mission and identity provide an excellent platform for a distinctive and differentiated program that prepares individuals to be excellent stewards of resources,” wrote Richtermeyer.

Supported by statistics

The national statistics support Richtermeyer’s assessment of the program’s demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Occupational Outlook, the accounting profession is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022. And the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ recently published survey, Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits, indicates enrollment in accounting programs increased 19% for master’s degree students in the most recent survey year (2013–14) and that 91% of firms expect their hiring of new accounting graduates to be higher than or the same as the previous year.

Building on a strong foundation

The new 31-credit master’s degree requires the college to revise three courses presently in the public accountancy major and add seven new graduate-level courses. These courses are designed to help students more fully develop communication, presentation, research and technical skills, in an effort to respond to changes coming to the industry and to increased testing of higher order skills—like application, analysis and evaluation—beginning with the 2017 CPA Exam.

“We are already doing things quite well in preparing students to sit for that exam,” said Cheryl Brandsen, provost of Calvin College. “But the CPA exam is also shifting in terms of content areas. So to continue to prepare students well, this is a good way to do that.”

Calvin has had a strong track record on the exam. In the past five years, nearly 68 percent of its graduates passed on their first attempt (18 percent higher than the national average), a feat that has put Calvin in the top 25 nationally among medium size CPA programs for four of the last five years.

And Marilyn Stansbury, who will serve as the MAcc program’s first director, sees its success closely tied with how its graduates embody the college’s mission in their work:

“The MAcc program will not only contribute to the skill development of the graduates but, perhaps even more importantly, increase the potential influence our graduates have in shaping the accounting profession.”

Marilyn Stansbury is serving as director of the MAcc program.

The master of accounting program is not just for accounting majors. Students can combine a wide range of undergraduate majors with MAcc as long as they meet the program’s prerequisites. Click here to learn more about admission into the MAcc program.

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