Sustaining Scholarship

How the accounting profession worked to raise the profile of doctoral accounting education—and, ultimately, persuade more practitioners to pursue academic careers in the discipline.
Sustaining Scholarship

In 2003, AACSB International’s Doctoral Faculty Commission (DFC) issued a report that addressed wide-spread concerns related to a short-age of doctoral faculty in certain markets for business education. In “Sustaining Scholarship in Business Schools,” the commission called for top doctoral programs to increase their intakes and f nd new sources of funding. It called on industry to promote business doctoral education more heavily to practitioners and create dedicated recruiting channels. Finally, it recommended the creation of an online doctoral program resource site for prospective students.

Soon after the report’s release, several DFC members met with the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education and officials of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., to explore possible government support, but neither agency expressed interest in funding doctoral education in business. These meetings made it very apparent: Specific business disciplines will have to find support for doctoral education on their own.

Here, we explore how one discipline—accounting—did just that, by developing a comprehensive pro-gram to address its faculty shortage. Although the DFC’s report does not discuss specific business disciplines, we hope its findings and our experience will inspire other disciplines facing similar shortages to act.

The Profession Gets Involved

Following the release of the DFC’s report, the American Accounting Association (AAA) and the Accounting Programs Leadership Group (APLG) formed a commit-tee to document the supply and demand for doctoral accounting faculty in the U.S. The committee issued a report which found that for the academic years of 2005–2006 through 2007–2008, the supply of accounting faculty filled only 49.9 percent of demand. Moreover, the supply of new PhDs in auditing filled only 22.8 percent of demand in that specialty; in tax, only 27.1 percent.

In response to these findings, William Ezzell, then president of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Foundation, formed a task force of academics to explore possible solutions. They concluded that accounting firms could make a difference in two ways: by recruiting candidates for doctoral programs from their own ranks and by funding candidates enrolling in doctoral pro-grams, especially in audit and tax.

Ezzell approached the largest accounting firms to discuss their willingness not only to encourage individuals on their staffs to make career changes, but also to create a scholarship fund for new doctoral students in audit and tax. The firms readily agreed. In fact, nearly 70 accounting firms, 49 state CPA societies, the AICPA, and a small number of other donors committed US$17 million, over eight years, to help the AICPA Foundation establish the Accounting Doctoral Scholars (ADS) Program to transition more practitioners into academic careers.

Setting Objectives

Representatives of the sponsoring firms formed an advisory council for the foundation, which set four primary objectives:

  • To encourage practitioners with recent public accounting experience in audit or tax to obtain their doctorates.
  • To provide financial support to selected qualified doctoral candidates.
  • To encourage universities to increase doctoral enrollments in audit and tax incrementally, with-out decreasing existing funded slots.
  • To improve accounting education with an infusion of faculty with both academic credentials and rich professional experience.

The council also set a goal: to enroll 120 men and women with recent public accounting experience in audit and tax at participating universities over the academic years spanning 2008–2013.The council next identified universities with strong audit and tax doctoral programs and excellent placement records post-graduation. In addition, the council partnered with some universities with recently established or restructured programs that showed strong potential for similarly placing their future doctoral graduates.

Participating universities in the ADS program were required to accept ADS Program Scholars as incremental enrollments, not enrollments that filled currently funded slots. Thirty-nine to 42 universities participated in the pro-gram during each of the four years. Moreover, for the program to be successful, participating firms were encouraged to inform their audit and tax staff members of this opportunity to make a career change.

Confirming Commitments

Each year, the council followed a two-step process to narrow down the pool of applicants for the ADS Program. First, a selection committee identified the most promising applicants and paid their travel expenses to attend an orientation in Chicago. The f rst year of the program, many people who applied were not eligible—only 53 of 131 initial applicants were invited to the orientation event. After the f rst year, we believe the number of applications decreased as poten-tial candidates learned what was required of successful applicants. In year two, 60 of 99 applicants were invited to move on; in year three, 60 of 77; and in year four, 58 of 78.

At the Chicago conference, we offered three panel sessions to give applicants a clear understanding of academic life. They included “Secrets of a Successful Applicant,” “Life as a Doctoral Student,” and “Life as a Faculty Member.” A concluding programs fair gave candidates the opportunity to visit with representatives from all participating universities.

Second, those applicants were asked to inform us—within one week—that they were committed to enrolling in doctoral programs and becoming accounting professors. About 10 percent withdrew their applications after the conference. Many simply noted that the program was “not what I thought I was signing up for.”

Once the committee selected final ADS Program Scholars, their names were posted on theADS Program website, where participating universities could access the information. Each scholar received an annual $30,000 stipend for four years. In addition, participating universities were required to fund their tuition for four years and could supplement the stipend if they wished. Participating universities with five-year programs were required to provide their standard graduate assistant stipend and other financial support during the fifth year.

Of the 89 scholars enrolled in doctoral programs at participating universities over the f rst three years, only ten had discontinued their study by the fall term of the fourth year. Thirty-five new ADS Program Scholars were funded in the fall of 2012, bringing the total enrollments of our program to 114. We know that some candidates dropped out at their host universities to accept offers of enrollment at their first-choice universities, slots had become available. In addition, some applicants who weren’t chosen for the ADS Program were enrolled in university-funded slots. 

Key Lessons

Now that we have funded the last class of ADS Program Scholars, we can look back at what we have learned. First of all, we discovered that working professionals know very little about academic careers, and even less about doctoral education. For that reason, we knew that it would be essential for us to pro-vide applicants with a clear under-standing of what lay ahead for them if they chose this path.

More important, we found that a pool of highly qualified applicants for accounting doctoral programs exists, but they must be actively recruited. We believe the same is true for other business disciplines.

We encourage other disciplines that face a shortage of academically qualified faculty to initiate programs similar to the ADS Program. By working closely with the employers who hire their graduates, departments can better identify, recruit, and support out-standing candidates who want to pursue academic careers. In an era of faculty shortages and university budget cuts, we believe that such an approach could not be more critical or timely.

Doyle Z. Williams served as the executive director of the Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program until August 31, 2012. Steve Matzke is director of faculty and university initiatives at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and is now serving as the program administrator for ADS. Those who would like more information on this initiative can reach the authors at ADSProgram@aicpa.org.