July 18, 2011 | last updated May 31, 2012 7:45 pm

Universities seeing rise in interest in accounting

The Connecticut State University System has seen rapid and dramatic growth in the number of students pursuing degrees in accounting.

It's a sign of the times and of the shifting job market, observers say.

A field that for generations has epitomized the boring and the tedious has caught students' attention as they search for fields that will offer solid opportunities upon graduation into a sour economy and a challenging job market, CSUS said. Students are finding a degree in accounting is a good place to start and doesn't necessarily mean one will be an accountant, per se.

Southern Connecticut State University offers an accounting concentration as part of its business degree program. Four years ago, 159 students chose that concentration. During the spring semester, 271 were enrolled.

The other three universities in the system — Central, Western and Eastern Connecticut State Universities — all offer degrees in accounting. They've seen enrollment in the program spike, too. They've also seen more non-accounting majors taking accounting classes, CSUS officials said.

For Alicia McCain, student and new professional outreach specialist at the Connecticut chapter of the Society of Certified Public Accountants, the increased enrollments are not a surprise.

She said students who may not have considered accounting in the past are finding that it's a more varied and flexible degree than student conventional wisdom might realize.

"It can really take you into any business you want to enter," McCain said. "It allows you to combine with your personal interests."

For example, she said the society's Connecticut chapter has members who used accounting degrees and certifications to find work in the music industry and with the New York Yankees.

Still, it's important for students to be realistic, McCain said.

And state Department of Labor data indicates that "accountants and auditors" are among the leading growth fields for students with bachelor's degrees seeking to enter the workforce through 2018.

Coming out of college, Connecticut students with degrees in accounting can expect to earn anywhere between $44,000 and $60,000 per year.

With a little extra push, though, the field's earning potential increases.

Once a student graduates with an accounting degree, he or she can sit for the exam to become licensed as a CPA. In order to get that license, though, students must put in a fifth year of college.

Mark Zampino, the society's public affairs director, said the fifth year requirement was originally intended to encourage accounting students to take some non-accounting courses in order to become more well-rounded.

These days, though, more students "are saying, 'Well, I might as well get my master's,'" Zampino said.

And that might be a smart move.

McCain said public accounting firms "seem to be the ones that are really out there recruiting."

Julie Carroza, the society's membership director, said she expects to see more accounting students working toward CPA certification.

Even for those who do not pursue CPA credentials, the field offers a lot of opportunity, McCain said.

A recent graduate can land a job in "a standard staff accountant position at the entry level," McCain said, and the pay is not too shabby. The real draw, though, is that a position like that "offers a lot of room for growth," she said.

Scott Trenholm, partner in charge of assurance services at CCR LLP in Glastonbury, said his firm wants all its accountants to make progress toward becoming CPAs.

In recent years, CCR has all but stopped searching the market for accountants with the coveted three years of experience and has begun an aggressive recruiting program that starts with internships, Trenholm said.

CSU also mentioned that the number of accounting students seeking and participating in internships has increased along with enrollment.

Internships are a little expensive for CCR. Trenholm said the firm pays its interns between $20 and $22 per hour. However, it retains a great number of them, and has at least one who made partner within 10 years, Trenholm said.

"I think nowadays, students are more aware of the areas of study they can get into where they can get a job," Trenholm said. "And the jobs have been there, even over the last few years. We haven't cut back on our entry level recruiting at all."

Trenholm said recruiting at the entry level allows the firm to "have good accountants three, four, five years from now. You cut back on your hiring and, three years later, you're wondering, 'where are all my people? It's a very competitive market for experienced people. You've got to grow your own talent in-house."

More accounting students participating in more internships means firms can take prospective employees for a bit of a test drive. "The firm gets to see them before they hire them," he said.

And he agreed that Connecticut schools, including ECSU, UConn and the University of Hartford provide the profession with high quality graduates.

"The quality of the student we get is really outstanding," Trenholm said. "They go into it with their eyes open.

That's something Zampino said he's also seen first-hand.

Zampino is an adjunct professor at the University of Hartford, and has been for 10 years. In that time, "I really believe the quality of the students has improved. They seem to be taking education more seriously than they did years ago."

McCain added, "They're looking ahead, they're focused. They want the best job."

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