Banking & Finance, Economic Development, and Education

Calvin College seeks to expand accounting master’s curriculum

The new MAcc program prepares students for the CPA exam.

February 22, 2019
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Two years in, Calvin College’s new master of accounting program seems to be showing success.

In its first year, the program graduated 13 students, who all have been hired for a job in the finance field. The program’s second class has 12 students.

The college’s MAcc program started in 2017 to help students earn a master’s degree while pursuing the 150 credit hours needed for the Certified Public Accountant exam, according to Marilyn Stansbury, MAcc director and the one who launched the program.

The 31-credit course includes 10 classes and lasts for nine months at a full-time course load. With Calvin’s B.S. in accounting degree containing 124 credit hours, MAcc graduates meet the 150 credit hours required to take the exam and receive CPA status.

Prior to establishing the master’s degree, students could take Calvin’s former 150-credit-hour B.S. in public accounting degree. Since most accounting master’s programs are 30 to 31 credit hours, that setup did not make a lot of sense, Stansbury said.

“They were effectively completing, credit-wise, the same amount of credits they would have gotten to earn a master's degree, but they were coming out with a bachelor's degree,” Stansbury said.

The department decided to eliminate the B.S. in public accounting degree, using its courses in auditing, government and nonprofit, and advanced accounting for the MAcc instead since they pertain to subjects in the CPA exam.

Because not every student completing the master’s program will take the CPA exam, the department struck a balance when establishing the program, offering classes vital to succeeding on the exam, as well as valuable business-related classes.

Stansbury said the MAcc also could benefit those who want to be an accountant for a private company, a CFO, internal auditor or other careers in which a finance or business degree would be beneficial.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for accountants and auditors to increase 10 percent from 2016 to 2026.

“Unlike some other master’s programs, it does very heavily emphasize business and accounting skills,” Stansbury said.

One of the program’s business analytics professors uses the information he learns from annual American Accounting Association conferences to bridge IT and accounting fields in hands-on applications, Stansbury said.

Designed particularly to better prepare students for the Certified Public Accountant exam, program leaders said they hope it can continue the college’s favorable exam results statewide and nationally.

In 2017, 75.5 percent of Calvin graduates who took the CPA exam for the first time passed the test, according to data from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy reported by Calvin. The national average is about 50 percent.

Those results rank Calvin eighth among 281 midsized institutions nationwide and 29th among all 797 institutions whose students took the exam.

On the regulation section of the exam, which had the second lowest cumulative pass rate in 2017, 80 percent of Calvin students passed, which was the highest in Michigan and 33 percent higher than the national average.

Students typically take the CPA exam during their final year or after graduation. The MAcc program does not pay for the exam.

Calvin said all courses are taught by professors with experience from one of the world’s four biggest public accounting firms. Full-time faculty teaches nine of the 10 courses. Courses are “taught from a Christian perspective.”

Whether from Calvin or another university, prerequisites include a bachelor’s degree and several courses: Intermediate Accounting I and II, Cost Accounting, Accounting Systems, Business Law and Corporate Finance. Interested students who have not taken those courses may do so through Calvin’s nondegree studies program.

Besides attracting Calvin undergrad students for the program, Stansbury said the college would like to attract students with accounting bachelor’s degrees from other schools, as well.

One of this year’s students came from Grand Valley State University, and another completing the program has had 10 years of work experience.

Stansbury said there is plenty of room to expand, and the department is working to spread the word.

There is an open house about the program from 9 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at the college’s DeVos Communication Center, at 1810 East Beltline Ave. SE in Grand Rapids.

During the event, interested students can attend a class; participate in a question and answer session; meet program staff, students and alumni; and tour the campus.

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