Accounting Careers in Higher Education

By Dave Calotta – January 23, 2015
Accounting Careers in Higher Education

A frequently overlooked accounting career path is higher education. Many accounting professors are CPAs who have chosen to pursue a fulfilling career of teaching instead of practicing. According to Bob DeFilippis, CPA, retired accounting professor from Fairleigh Dickinson University, being a professor is “like being a coach.” DeFilippis has worked with more than 30,000 students during his career, each of whom he was responsible for teaching, motivating and mentoring.

Someone choosing a career in education has a number of potential paths. Many professors’ first foray into teaching is as an adjunct professor – someone who works in the field of accounting and teaches a course or two at nights or on weekends. Margaret Van Brunt, CPA, of Rowan University started in just that manner: After earning her B.S. at Rutgers University, while working as a tax accountant, she began teaching a tax course in the evening at Rowan. Over time, Van Brunt became a “three-quarters-time” professor and moved into administration in 1999. She also found that working as a part-time professor afforded her the flexibility that she craved while raising her young family. Like DeFilippis, Van Brunt’s greatest enjoyment from working in education comes from “making an impact on students.”

Others pursuing a career in higher education may take a different path: one that includes earning a Ph.D. in accounting. DeFilippis, who retired as the accounting department chair at Fairleigh Dickinson, noted that many large colleges and universities prefer hiring Ph.D. professors. While earning a Ph.D. may sound daunting, there are many resources to help accountants attain their doctorate – one such program is the Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program backed by many large accounting firms and the American Institute of CPAs. The time put into earning a Ph.D. can pay off; DeFilippis noted that newly minted Ph.Ds. could earn upwards of $150,000 per year.

Being a professor is much more than administering tests and giving out grades. Ann Marie Callahan, CPA, of Caldwell University not only teaches a full course load, she also assists her students in beginning their careers by providing advice and mentoring that is based on her experience as an auditor at PwC and her 12 years in private industry. “One of the best things about being a professor,” Callahan states, “is seeing my students succeed in their careers and in their lives.” This is, in part, based on the impact she was able to have on them during their college careers.

DeFilippis indicated that one of the major benefits of being a professor is its flexibility. Many professors teach four or five courses per semester. This amounts to 12 to 18 hours per week in the classroom plus time spent grading assignments and corresponding with students. Callahan takes advantage of this flexibility by maintaining an active tax practice, while DeFilippis fills the extra time by teaching at a popular CPA review course.

Just like any other career, there are downsides to a career in education. DeFilippis notes that over the course of his 40-year career at FDU, the amount of time he needed to spend on administrative activities increased steadily. Van Brunt said that the hardest part of teaching is being “on-stage” and keeping students engaged and motivated. Callahan dislikes grading, finding it crucial to remain fair and objective, while grading based on performance and not the relationships that she has with her students.

For a CPA who is considering a career in education, Callahan suggests becoming involved in the New Jersey Society of CPAs’ student programs and committees, such as Pay It Forward where CPAs discuss accounting with high school students, or the Student Programs and Scholarship Committee, which is charged with administering and granting approximately $500,000 of scholarships that the Society awards annually. A prospective educator might also choose to reach out to members of the NJCPA Accounting Educators Community, which contains a number of professors from New Jersey colleges and universities. These opportunities within the Society provide great networking opportunities with experienced professors who could become mentors to a young professor, or a conduit for job openings at colleges and universities around the state. Van Brunt also professed the benefits of networking through higher education and accounting-focused conferences. Callahan, DeFilippis, and Van Brunt all recommended pursuing an advanced degree; many institutions hire CPAs who have earned an M.B.A. to be professors, feeling that their students are well served by the real-life experiences that these candidates bring to the classroom. There are many opportunities to experience being a professor before committing to it full time. Being an adjunct professor is a great way to dip your toe into the water before leaping in. To learn about adjunct faculty opportunities, Callahan advises getting involved at local colleges or one’s alma mater.

Being an accounting professor is an opportunity to leverage an accounting education in a very meaningful way.You help shape the lives and careers of many students. The profession comes with great flexibility and many different opportunities, yet it is challenging and rewarding. Accounting professors are lifelong learners who provide the great and valued service of passing knowledge on to the next generations of accountants, auditors, consultants and tax professionals.

David G. Calotta

David G. Calotta

David G. Calotta, CPA, is an internal audit manager at ADP. He is a member of the New Jersey Society of CPAs Student Programs & Scholarships Committee.

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