Recent innovations set accounting master's program and its alumni apart
Bethany Lares isn't afraid to give credit where credit is due.
“In my job, I’ve become notorious — the good version of notorious — for knowing Alteryx,” says Lares, an audit associate in her first year at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who created a time-saving workflow with the data analytics program during this busy tax season.
“My seniors are coming to me asking for help on Alteryx, which is crazy because they have more experience than me. But guess what I have? Knowledge of this program. ... People ask me, ‘How do you know how to do all this?’ And I'm like, ‘ASU master’s program.’”
Lares, who earned her BA in accountancy from Arizona State University in 2020, is also a 2022 graduate of the university's Master of Accountancy and Data Analytics (MACC) program.
The MACC program has incorporated data analytics into its curriculum since 2018, thanks in part to its partnership with KPMG, a global professional services firm, and a recent doubling down on technology in the curriculum gives graduates valuable expertise in data analytics.
“The profession is moving more toward data analytics — working with big data and being able to communicate what that means and how to work with it,” says Philip Drake, clinical professor of accountancy. “We’re focusing on helping accountants be able to work in the world that is coming.”
ASU's School of Accountancy recently performed a comprehensive review, surveying alumni, students, member firms and its professional advisory board. A key finding was that data analytics is integral to the future of accounting. As a result, the MACC program’s core courses were updated to integrate data analytics training and hands-on projects that help students fine-tune their skills.
The move has paid off for alumni like Lares, who was formally recognized by her employer in a recent performance evaluation for her data analytics expertise, and for the more than 90% of MACC program graduates who have secured relevant employment after graduation.
CPA exam preparation
Another recent update to the MACC program incorporated CPA exam preparation into the curriculum. A new, three-credit course provides exam preparation through a partnership with Becker, a provider of CPA review courses. According to Drake, giving students access to study materials and the time to use them helps ensure they pass the CPA by the time they graduate or shortly afterward.
“We work with students to make sure that they are in a position to be able to take time to study for the CPA while doing their coursework,” Drake says. “It's very beneficial for the students and the firms. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Andy Call, school director and Accountancy Professional Advisory Board Professor, says making the exam preparation part of the program helps graduates feel prepared to enter the workforce when they leave campus.
“The feedback from the students has been very positive on this,” Call says. “The professionals also love it because now they're hiring CPA-eligible or CPA-ready students. It has been a very good thing.”
Course variety and relevance
The program recently added electives for the first time, giving students the flexibility to tailor their studies to their interests. These include courses on up-and-coming issues in accounting, such as sustainability. A course on environmental, social and governance (ESG) was added, with the possibility of more to come through a collaboration with the School of Sustainability.
And how does sustainability tie into accounting? According to Drake, the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) has proposed rules to require companies to disclose their ESG plans. The accounting profession, he says, is a natural fit to ensure firms are meeting these standards.
“It’s easy to make a statement, and then just kind of say we did this or that, and no one ever comes by and says, ‘Hey, what are the reporting requirements? What are the standards by which we could do this?'” Drake says. “The accounting profession says, ‘We're good at evaluating financial statements. We have a set of rules; we have your financial statements. We can see whether indeed you are meeting the rules that are in place.’”
Creating pathways for access and diversity
To help draw diverse talent to the accounting profession, scholarships are available through the Deloitte Foundation and KPMG. The W. P. Carey Deloitte Foundation Accounting Scholars Program and KPMG MADA Scholars programs provide competitive scholarships to individuals who demonstrate support for diversity, equity and inclusion issues within the accounting field.
“(The scholarships) create access pathways to many individuals who haven't traditionally taken this pathway into accountancy professions,” says Rebecca Mallen-Churchill, director of W. P. Carey Graduate Programs Admissions. “I don't know if a lot of people think about accountancy programs when they're thinking about programs where there's a lot of funding available from corporate partners. These are innovative partnerships that ultimately are designed to improve our local and global communities.”
Mallen-Churchill says the scholarship programs are currently accepting applications and seeking applicants “who have that passion and that tie it to improving representation, equity and inclusion across accounting.”
Learning to collaborate with others with different experiences and opinions was a valuable component of the MACC program for Lares. She says sharpening her communication and problem-solving skills during group work with other MACC students helped prepare her to enter the workforce.
“Working in the group projects helped me understand how to collaborate with other people who are different from me and people who are like me," she said. "Because, at work, I don't get to choose my coworkers, and that's how it was with the projects. You learn to work through it, and communication is a big part. So that was very helpful.”
Read about Bethany Lares' (BS Accountancy '20, MACC '22) life behind her MACC degree.