It’s about more than accounting

There is more to being a good accountant than accounting. At least that’s the message that Bryant University had been getting from employers.
In response, the school has developed a new “master of professional accountancy” program, slated to begin next summer, that will meld advanced accounting training with other useful business skills.
“Most accounting programs think in a linear way and think the more accounting courses they have, the better they’ll be,” said Keith Murray, associate dean of Bryant’s College of Business. “But much of what young accountants have to get done when they are on the job has more to do with management, leadership and communication skills – and we acknowledge that, to make our program distinctive.”
The new program, Murray added, “appeals to the marketplace. When we worked with the partners at accounting firms, they agreed with us entirely and thought that adding to the curriculum of accounting courses was a real plus.”
Dennis Bline, chairman of the accounting department at Bryant, said the development of the program was informed, among other things, by visits to nearly 20 accounting firms “from Hartford to Charlestown.”
“We talked to large firms, small firms and not-for-profits,” he said.
“They said that students get out with technical skills, but that they are missing the corporate skills. Corporate governance, project management and communication – those are the skills they find students to be less prepared in.”
To teach those skills, the new two-semester, 10-course master’s program will include corporate-focused courses such as corporate governance, strategic cost management and multinational accounting, as well as project management for accounting leadership and research and communications.
These courses are intended to complement the five technical accounting courses that are required for most graduate accounting degrees.
“The five technical accounting courses are very common, but the rest are not as common,” Bline said, adding that project management and research and communications “are very unique.”
“We’re trying to weave together a concise group of courses that will prepare students for entry-level, mid-career and advancement,” he said. “And the firms were excited about these, because it helps them understand the corporate environment they will be in when they work with clients.”
Angela Paolino, human resources director at DiSanto, Priest & Co. in Warwick, said the new program will better prepare Bryant graduates for accounting careers.
“We applaud their program and we are totally committed to supporting any undergraduate student that wants to pursue it,” she said.
“Bryant has always turned out good graduates with strong technical skills for a position in a CPA firm,” she explained, “but we find that they’re often lacking those soft skills, the leadership skills that become important to accountants as they develop to senior roles and have to generate their own business.”
Those skills are hard to teach in the workplace, Paolino said, “so we feel that if they get exposure in college, then they understand it when they are coming into a firm rather than discovering five years from then that they need to work on their interpersonal skills.”
The problem at Bryant, Bline said, was that there simply wasn’t enough time to teach all those skills as part of the undergraduate program.
“There are undergraduate courses like speech and writing, but they aren’t focused on the professional requirements,” he said. “While there are things that we would love to have, we just can’t fit that into 123 credits.”
The program also helps satisfy the additional credits that are needed to get from a bachelor’s degree to becoming a certified public accountant. Accountants need 150 educational credits to become CPAs, but most undergraduate programs, like Bryant’s, fall short of that total.
Therefore, Murray said, the new master’s program is geared primarily to recent graduates and those who have been working for a year or two.
And though the extra credits for a CPA don’t need to be earned in accounting or business or as part of a master’s program, Bline said the trend is to get a master’s degree in accounting.
“They could take additional credits in anything – they simply must have 150 credit hours of education,” he said. “But it’s about competition. A lot of your competition will have a master’s degree, so the bulk of people going into public accounting will get master’s degrees.”
And, according to Murray, competition is also Bryant’s reason for launching this new program. “The special curriculum is very distinctive,” he said. “It equips students to start a career, not just get a job.”

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