Transitioning into academia: A new pathway for practitioners

By making it easier for practitioners to obtain doctorates, nontraditional doctoral programs may help stem the accounting faculty shortage.
By Carol C. Bishop, CPA, DBA; Douglas M. Boyle, CPA, DBA; Brian W. Carpenter, Ph.D.; and Dana R. Hermanson, Ph.D.

Transitioning into academia: A new pathway for practitioners
Photo by vliet/iStock

The shortage of accounting faculty in the United States has been a serious concern for academicians, policymakers, and the profession for decades. One solution to the problem may be convincing more practitioners to become faculty members, and, indeed, a significant number of practitioners are interested in teaching. Though certain barriers, such as the time commitment required to earn a doctorate, have kept many practitioners from joining the ranks of the faculty, recent developments have opened new pathways for practicing accountants to enter academia. One of these is the development of flexible practitioner-oriented doctoral programs that enable practitioners to study part time while still earning a salary.

The faculty shortage and why practitioners may be the answer

In the 2013—14 school year, a record 207,071 undergraduates enrolled in accounting programs—over 73,000 more than enrolled in 2001—02. Across all programs, according to an annual supply-and-demand survey by the AICPA, enrollments have risen every year from 1999—2000 to the present (see 2015 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits. Yet enrollments in accounting Ph.D. programs have not increased much over the past six years, leading to a shortage of full-time faculty.

The accounting profession has taken steps to address the faculty shortage, among them launching the Accounting Doctoral Scholars (ADS) Program in 2008. Over 120 sponsors donated $17 million to this program, which was intended to incrementally increase the Ph.D. pipeline. To date, 108 current and future ADS Ph.D.s have made the transition from practice to academia. The AICPA Foundation will begin a new doctoral initiative in 2016.

The shortage persists, however, and it has forced close to two-thirds of all accounting departments to increase undergraduate class sizes in the past five years, a recent survey of 204 accounting program administrators found. According to the survey, which was conducted by accounting professors R. David Plumlee and Philip M.J. Reckers, 39% of small and 30% of large accredited schools have had to reduce the number of electives they offer. Plumlee and Reckers also found that more than 70% of administrators said their programs had been harmed by the faculty shortage. The problem was most severe among smaller accredited schools, where 96% of administrators reported that the shortage had been detrimental to their programs (see "Lessons Not Learned: Why Is There Still a Crisis-Level Shortage of Accounting Ph.D.s?" Accounting Horizons, June 2014, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp. 313—330).

Many schools have coped with the shortage by hiring part-time or adjunct instructors, who do not generally need to hold doctorates, to teach classes. However, most accounting programs still need to hire a certain percentage of doctorally trained faculty to meet accreditation standards. Schools also benefit by hiring permanent faculty members as they enjoy enhanced reputations when their full-time faculty publish research.

One partial solution to the shortage may be improving pathways to academia for practitioners. Signs exist that significant numbers of practitioners have an interest in pursuing careers as educators. A survey of 231 practitioners conducted by Michael O. Mensah and three of the authors of this article, for example, revealed that more than 15% of respondents had a fairly high level of interest in full-time teaching (see "The Accounting Doctorate Shortage," available at imanet.org. In addition, more than 2,000 people recently signed up for an American Accounting Association (AAA) webcast on transitioning from practice to academia, suggesting that a good number of practitioners show an interest in academic careers.

In a recent survey conducted by three of the authors of this article, practitioners who became faculty reported high levels of satisfaction with their careers (sciencedirect.com). They can also earn attractive salaries. In 2013, the mean salary for new doctoral graduates in accounting was $151,100, while the mean salary for an assistant professor of accounting (the entry-level tenure-track position) was $135,800. Instructors—non-tenure-track faculty—made an average of $73,400 (see Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), 2013—2014 Salary Survey Reports. (Note, however, that these figures are averages and are based primarily on positions that require a traditional Ph.D. Salaries also vary widely depending on the type of institution where someone teaches; in general, they are higher at research-focused schools and lower at teaching-focused schools.)

One reason more practitioners don't go into teaching, though, is that the process of obtaining a doctorate can be daunting. Full-time, traditional doctoral programs typically require four to five years or more of intense study. Most programs require that doctoral students teach classes. Doctoral students receive stipends that typically range from $12,000 to $35,000 for nine months—far less money than someone would make as a practicing accountant. While it is certainly possible to teach without a doctorate, such teaching opportunities are largely limited to positions as either part-time adjunct faculty or non-tenure-track full-time faculty with far less job security, fewer career options, and significantly lower compensation than faculty with a doctorate.

Practitioners who are interested in teaching are often put off by the opportunity costs associated with traditional doctoral programs. They're often unwilling to relocate to attend school, especially if they have families, and many cannot afford to give up their jobs to make far less money for several years.

What to expect from a nontraditional program

Recently, however, there has been growth in accredited, nontraditional doctoral programs that offer more flexibility to meet the needs of experienced practitioners (see the table, "Traditional vs. Nontraditional Doctoral Programs"). Most of the approximately 15 nontraditional AACSB-accredited programs in the United States have been launched in the past seven to eight years. Based on our direct knowledge of the Kennesaw State University nontraditional accounting DBA program and our knowledge of other nontraditional programs, we estimate the average annual number of graduates from such programs soon may approach 20. As the average number of traditional accounting Ph.D. graduates for the past three years is 172 (see data table available at jrhasselback.com, this number would represent about 10% of the estimated total number of terminal accounting degree graduates. In addition, as the number of nontraditional programs grows, these programs can be expected to have a significant impact on the teaching shortage in the future.

Traditional vs. nontraditional doctoral programs


These programs are designed to allow practitioners to pursue a doctorate while maintaining their employment and current income. Unlike traditional Ph.D. programs, which usually take four to five years or more of full-time study to complete, nontraditional programs typically take three to four years to complete and are designed for experienced professionals.

Some flexible programs focus on academic research and preparing graduates for academic careers, while others emphasize applied research and preparing students for further success in their business careers. Nontraditional programs vary in structure, but, typically, in the coursework stage of a nontraditional program, students often receive in-person, full-day instruction provided in about 10 two- to four-day residencies. They usually complete research papers rather than exams. Students spend 20 or more hours per week in between residencies preparing for courses by reading academic papers, mastering statistical methods, and conducting academic research.

At the nontraditional program at Kennesaw State, for example, the first year of the program includes coursework in statistical methods and theory. By the second year, students begin identifying, researching, and writing in particular areas of interest that will be further developed into a dissertation of 100 or more pages in the third year. Dissertations in this program have covered topics such as auditor decision-making, board of director decision-making and oversight, fraud whistleblowing, pressures on CFOs to misreport financial information, and the implementation of enterprise risk management programs, among others.

However, unlike traditional programs, where tuition is often waived if a student accepts teaching and/or research responsibilities, these programs charge premium tuition, with students often paying from $70,000 to $150,000 for the entire program. Student financial aid is possible in nontraditional programs, but it appears to be relatively rare compared to aid available for students in traditional doctoral programs.

One reality of attending a flexible doctoral program is that graduates of such programs are more likely to be employed by smaller, nondoctoral institutions, where the research expectations may be lighter, but the teaching loads may be higher and salaries lower. Results of a recent survey of faculty and university administrators suggest that support for attracting practitioners into academia and support for nontraditional doctoral programs are strongest from respondents working at smaller, nondoctoral schools (see "The Accounting Faculty Shortage: Causes and Contemporary Solutions," by Douglas M. Boyle, Brian W. Carpenter, and Dana R. Hermanson, Accounting Horizons, June 2015, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp. 245—264). Our personal experience indicates that graduates of nontraditional programs often secure tenure-track positions at AACSB-accredited regional universities, with some graduates moving into visiting or clinical positions at more research-focused schools. Likewise, a recent survey of graduates of nontraditional doctoral programs conducted by the Pathways Commission found that more than two-thirds of respondents were working as assistant or associate professors—full-time, tenure-track positions (see An Examination of Non-Traditional Doctoral Education, available at aaahq.org.

Road map for a successful transition from practice to academia

If you are a practitioner thinking about a career in academia, here is some advice, along with a list of some milestones you'll face along the way.

  • The best way to more directly confirm your interest in an academic career is to actually teach. If you hold a master's degree and are a CPA, you can likely find many teaching opportunities as a part-time adjunct faculty member while you still maintain your current employment. Securing this experience is a low-risk way for you to determine if a move into academia is right for you.
  • Ensure you have a basic understanding of academic career responsibilities and learn from those who have successfully made such a transition. To get a better idea of what being an accounting faculty member entails, read the articles listed in the resource box at the end of this article under "Other resources" and watch the AAA's webcast "Pathway to Academia for Accounting Professionals," available at pathway2academy.org.
  • If you decide to make a full-time transition to academia, determine whether you want to pursue a non-tenure-track, professionally oriented teaching position or a tenure-track professor position. If you pursue a professionally oriented (non-tenure-track) position, you will likely not need to secure additional education credentials; rather, you will need to maintain your professional qualifications. While this route requires less educational investment, it also typically provides less job security and significantly lower compensation.
  • If you decide to pursue a doctoral degree, you should consider whether a traditional Ph.D. program or a more flexible nontraditional doctoral program best fits your needs. You can review the characteristics of both types of programs in the table "Traditional vs. Nontraditional Doctoral Programs" and find more information about individual nontraditional programs through the universities' websites. Pay attention to the accreditation status of the schools you're considering, as many hiring institutions specify that faculty must have a doctorate from an AACSB-accredited institution. In addition, ask about the extent to which the program prepares students to conduct publishable research, what the research requirements are, where graduates publish their dissertation research, and whether the faculty work with students on research projects. If you are seeking an academic position, consider whether the school has an accounting specialty, and look for a program that requires a formal dissertation and significant instruction in statistics and research methods.
  • Once you earn your doctoral degree, it is important to find an academic institution that fits your preferences concerning research, teaching, and service expectations. Not all institutions are the same, and in fact you will find each places different emphasis on these three key areas of focus based on its mission. Many practitioners are interested in practice-based research due to their extensive professional backgrounds. Support for practice-based research tends to be strongest at nondoctoral institutions. Teaching expectations for full-time, tenure-track professors at such schools generally include three courses per semester during the regular fall and spring terms, with potential optional teaching opportunities over the summer. Teaching loads are typically higher for those who do not hold a doctoral degree and are professionally oriented.
  • Establish a mentoring relationship with someone in academia to help guide you through your journey. We believe that you will find such individuals are more than willing to help you make a successful transition to an exceptionally rewarding new career.

About the authors

Carol C. Bishop (carol.bishop@gsw.edu) is an assistant professor of accounting and director of the MBA program at Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus, Ga., and a graduate of the practitioner DBA program at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Ga. Douglas M. Boyle (douglas.boyle@scranton.edu) is an associate professor of accounting and chair of the accounting department at the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pa., and a graduate of the practitioner DBA program at Kennesaw State University. Brian W. Carpenter (brian.carpenter@scranton.edu) is a professor of accounting at the University of Scranton. Dana R. Hermanson (dhermans@kennesaw.edu) is a professor of accounting who teaches in the undergraduate, graduate, and practitioner DBA programs at Kennesaw State University.

To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA associate editor, at cvien@aicpa.org or 919-402-4125.


AICPA RESOURCES

JofA articles

AICPA article

A Ph.D. for Me? Really?” June 16, 2015

Online tools

OTHER RESOURCES

Articles

  • “What It Means to Be an Accounting Professor: A Concise Career Guide for Doctoral Students in Accounting,” by Brooke Beyer, Don Herrmann, Gary K. Meek, and Eric T. Rapley, Issues in Accounting Education 25 (2), pp. 227–244
  • A Different Model for Doctoral Education in Accounting and Auditing: Student and Faculty Reflections,” by Carol C. Bishop, Douglas M. Boyle, Richard R. Clune, and Dana R. Hermanson, Current Issues in Auditing 6 (1), pp. 1–16
  • “What I Have Learned So Far: Observations on Managing an Academic Accounting Career,” by Dana R. Hermanson, Issues in Accounting Education 23 (1), pp. 53–66
  • “Blazing a Different Path: A Career in Academia,” by Thomas G. Noland and Gregory L. Prescott, Strategic Finance (October 2013), pp. 35–41

Webcast

American Accounting Association’s “Pathway to Academia for Accounting Professionals” 

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