CPA INSIDER

Don’t let these myths stand between you and a teaching job

This background knowledge can help you transition from practice to academia.
By James B. Biagi, CPA, J.D.

College-level accounting faculty are in high demand. To help alleviate the faculty shortage, the Pathways Commission on Accounting Higher Education, a joint initiative by the AICPA and the American Accounting Association formed to study the structure of accounting education and suggest improvements, has recommended that practitioners be encouraged to move into teaching.

However, CPAs who try to enter academia encounter certain obstacles along the way. One of the most significant is the fact that the process for getting a full-time job in academia is very different than it is in the private sector. Here are three misconceptions CPAs often hold that can stand between them and teaching jobs they desire. 

Myth: Being a CPA means you're qualified to teach.

Never assume that because you are a CPA with a wealth of practical experience, academic qualification to teach necessarily follows. The reason is that schools must adhere to accreditation standards that specify what type of professionals they can hire.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is the leading accrediting body for business schools. Under its standards, schools must maintain and deploy a mix of various types of qualified faculty. Whether job candidates are considered "qualified" is determined, in large part, by two criteria: the highest academic degree they have obtained and their scholarly activity in a particular field. To a lesser extent, professional experiences, licenses, and designations are also considered.

The AACSB specifies four faculty categories: scholarly academic (SA), practice academic (PA), scholarly practitioner (SP), and instructional practitioner (IP).

Most job postings in accounting seek SA faculty. To fall into that category, a CPA must hold a doctorate in accounting or a related field and have demonstrated scholarly output (such as scholarly books or articles in academic journals). These individuals are in short supply.

Many positions are also open to PA faculty—practicing CPAs who hold a doctoral degree but lack scholarship—as long as they are willing to engage in academic research.

CPAs without a doctoral degree generally fall into one of two practitioner categories: SP generally covers CPAs with a master's degree and scholarly activity while IP typically covers those with master's degrees and significant work experience.

Many schools prefer SA faculty. Though positions are available in the other three categories, these jobs are often nontenured and carry titles such as lecturer, clinical faculty, or teaching faculty. They offer reduced pay, but also involve lower service and publication requirements. They may require a small additional teaching load.

CPAs without terminal degrees may find more teaching opportunities at schools that aren't accredited by the AACSB. Other accrediting bodies, such as the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) and the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education (IACBE) allow schools to employ a broader array of criteria to determine who has the academic qualification to teach.

Open accounting faculty positions are found on internet sites serving the academic community (chronicle.com, higheredjobs.com, or bizschooljobs.com), university webpages, LinkedIn, and the American Accounting Association home page. When you're deciding which positions to apply to, determine the accrediting body used by your intended employer, what its standards are, and how your background aligns with the standards to get a better idea of your chances of success.

When applying, you should also tailor your résumé (known to academics as a curriculum vitae or CV) to address the skills sought by academic decision-makers. Often, when CPAs apply for teaching positions, they emphasize work experience along with professional and client accomplishments on their application materials. They pay less attention to educational background, teaching experiences, past presentations, and publication history and potential. However, most business schools focus on that latter group of characteristics when making employment decisions.

Myth: A full-time faculty member only teaches.

Many CPAs possess a passion to convey their knowledge to the next generation of accountants. Often, they assume that teaching is the only responsibility involved in a faculty position, but this is not always the case. In addition to scholarly activity, faculty may be asked to serve on school and university committees, develop classes, recruit, and advise students on degree requirements and career issues. The time spent on these activities may vary, but most faculty are asked to participate in them to some extent.

CPAs may find these responsibilities an exciting part of a new career. However, before accepting a position, consider the requirements in nonteaching areas and your willingness to undertake them. Most universities will grant promotion only to those individuals who successfully perform these tasks and may ask the unsuccessful to leave.

Myth: You can do it on your own.

Many CPAs have experienced a situation in which their knowledge in a practice area was limited. In those circumstances, they sought the advice of an experienced colleague. Having such advice during the academic job search process is likewise critical.

First-time academic job seekers should find a mentor who can help them through the process and in making the career transition. A mentor can help you draft a CV to best highlight your strengths, analyze appropriate positions for which to apply, advise about the application and interview process, and provide encouragement throughout your job search. A mentor can also help you make connections with other colleagues to increase your exposure to the academic community.

Admittedly, a mentor may be hard to find. If you have served as an adjunct faculty member, you can contact the dean of the business school or other full-time faculty members for advice. Often, schools have adjunct faculty development events, and these are wonderful places to connect with a possible mentor. A former professor at the school you attended as an undergraduate could be a tremendous resource.  

Another way to find a mentor is through Vitae, a service provided by the Chronicle of Higher Education's website. The site lists experienced faculty who have indicated a willingness to serve as a mentor to job seekers. What's more, it allows job seekers to load all the relevant information contained in their CV to a single employment website and use that information to apply for open positions posted on its (and other) sites. The single entry point is a timesaver. 

For a more in-depth look at these issues, listen to the Journal of Accountancy podcast "From CPA to the Classroom: Going From Practitioner to Professor" featuring Jim Biagi and Anthony Bucaro, CPA, Ph.D., of Case Western Reserve University.

Jim Biagi, CPA, J.D., is an associate teaching professor at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. To comment on this article, email senior editor Courtney Vien.

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