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Booming enrollment reflects strong job opportunities for WCSU accounting graduates

Job opportunities may be fewer and harder to come by in many fields due to persistent economic weakness, but graduates from WCSU’s burgeoning accounting program continue to find a diverse array of attractive prospects for immediate employment in the profession.

“Accounting majors are still finding a lot of opportunities within this slow economic environment,” observed Richard Proctor, professor of accounting and chairman of the accounting department in Western’s Ancell School of Business. “We’re still seeing robust demand in public accounting, both at the large regional and national firms and at the smaller local firms. Demand for accountants on the corporate side has slowed a bit, but there are still jobs out there and, as we come out of the recession cycle, the demand will grow stronger.”

Such employment strength in the face of stiff economic headwinds helps to explain the significant rise in students who have chosen accounting as their major in the ASB Bachelor of Business Administration curriculum. Proctor estimated that approximately 60 students will receive the BBA in Accounting degree in 2012. Course enrollments that only a few years ago averaged 20 to 25 students per section now routinely reach the maximum of 30 students for most sections. Undergraduate enrollment in the department now totals about 250, with sustained strength in transfer admissions of community college recipients of associate’s degrees swelling the ranks of junior and senior accounting majors.

“The junior and senior level classes are feeling the pinch, and we may have to add some class sections to meet this demand,” Proctor noted. The department accommodates accounting majors who must balance their classroom studies with work obligations by offering the choice of either a day or evening section for each required course in the program’s curriculum.

Proctor and his six colleagues on the accounting faculty bring strong diversity in professional experience and academic specializations to the WCSU program, from financial and managerial accounting to taxation and audits, fraud examination and business law.  The department has received authorization to hire a new full-time faculty member to start in the 2012-13 academic year, and classroom space is under review to determine if it is possible to accommodate a small increase in class size in some sections.

Proctor began his own career in corporate financial management, including a stint as chief financial officer for Executrans Relocation, before making the transition to college teaching, initially at the University of Hartford and for the past 30 years at WCSU. Over the past three decades, he also carried on a successful consulting business focusing on forensic accounting and fraud investigation until he closed his private practice two years ago.

The growth in demand for specialized financial services such as forensic accounting and business valuation underscores that the expansion in job opportunities in the profession is not limited to the traditional area of Certified Public Accounting. The forensic field — an area that encompasses investigation of financial fraud and missing assets, as well as presentation of expert testimony in court cases — has proven an especially promising source of job opportunities in the field.

“Fraud continues to be a growing problem, and more and more companies have established their own fraud departments,” Proctor noted. “One of our goals in the accounting program is to raise awareness of how and why fraud occurs, and how to go about investigating it. In many cases, it could be just a matter of lax controls: Internal controls are best designed to prevent otherwise honest people from doing something stupid and regretting it later.”

Similarly, demand has risen steadily for specialized accountants trained to conduct complex valuations of corporate and financial assets. “The demand for expertise in valuation matters has become very important,” Proctor observed, citing areas ranging from divorce and estate settlements to business breakups and mergers. “It has become a booming field, which is why we have introduced a business valuation course here.”

In view of the diversity of opportunities in the profession, Proctor advises accounting students to pursue studies to gain certification both as a CPA — still “the king of the certificates” in the field — and as a specialized practitioner in a field such as forensic accounting or business valuation. “It will never hurt to go on to get a graduate degree as well, but I always advise our students to get two professional certifications to enhance their employment prospects and opportunities.”

The relative strength of job opportunities in the profession has produced a noticeable increase in students who have switched majors to accounting from other disciplines, Proctor noted. He recalled his own experience in starting out as an engineering major before transferring to Columbia University to complete a degree in accounting.

“If you have the inclination, it’s a good field to be in,” he said. “Some students get into it, while others find that their brain doesn’t pattern the information the way that you need to in this field. Learning accounting is like learning a foreign language — learning a whole new vocabulary, and then learning how to speak it. Some people think that accounting is just about working with numbers; in fact, it’s really a new way of communicating those numbers and how you analyze them.”

Proctor observed that most undergraduates in the accounting program also hold part-time jobs — many thanks to the efforts of WCSU’s Career Placement office in facilitating coop and internship opportunities for continuing students, as well as job interviews for seniors seeking post-graduation employment. But with financial needs to meet tuition obligations requiring many to work long hours that cut into studies and extracurricular opportunities, he sees a clear and growing need for increased scholarship resources.

“We have many excellent students who could compete academically anywhere in the country, yet they don’t receive scholarships because there just aren’t enough scholarship funds to go around,” he said. “There is a definite need to reward such academic excellence, and the need is real. A lot of our students are working 25 to 30 hours a week while they are taking classes full-time,” along with participation in the Accounting Club and other campus activities. “They’re constantly trying to juggle their time commitments, and it’s a real challenge.”

Proctor expressed pride in the academic quality and breadth of the accounting education offered at Western.

“Our faculty takes that commitment seriously, and we put the students through a demanding program here,” he said. “My advice to our students is to be prepared to work hard — particularly in their senior year, which is the toughest year in the program. Our students are always being challenged to succeed.”

Cover photo: Richard Proctor, professor of accounting and chairman of the accounting department in Western’s Ancell School of Business
Above photo: Recruiters from the accounting firm Ernst & Young in their booth space at the 2011 WCSU Career Fair chatting with President Schmotter and Maureen Gernert, director, WCSU Career Development Center

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