Ask an elementary or high school student what they want to do when they grow up and rarely do you hear the answer “accountant.” But increasingly it seems that the very profession that conjures visuals of the comic character “Dilbert” and his colleagues is one that offers staying power and opportunities for growth, given the right training and education.
“As we move to a more global marketplace and the use of International Financial Reporting Standards, the importance of professional accounting education and experience will become even more pronounced,” says professor Donna DeMilia of Grand Canyon University’s Ken Blanchard College of Business in Phoenix.
College students are taking notice. DeMilia notes that at Grand Canyon University, the number of undergraduate accounting students has grown seven times in the past three years, and enrollment of master’s students has more than doubled. That makes accounting the fastest growing program at the school during the past three years.
“Students are looking not only for stability in their career path, but also how their life experiences and education can affect their work in the field,” DeMilia says. “In accounting in particular, our students seek guidance in business ethics from a Christian perspective, rather than strictly from a societal viewpoint.”
Dakota Serna, a 22-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz., offers a prime example of how appealing the industry has become. Before declaring accounting as his major, he experimented with subjects as varied as kinesiology and religious studies, and while he enjoyed those subjects he realized that he wanted something that secured his future. A career that left little room for interpretation was appealing to him.
“Accounting is very systematic — if you’re doing it right, it’s black and white with few gray areas,” Serna says.
He already has a job lined with an Arizona-based risk-management company and believes the internships he pursued while in college gave him an edge when looking for a full-time position.
Despite the troubling economy, there are glimmers of hope in the accounting field. According to Robert Half International, 30 percent of those who responded to its annual employer job outlook survey anticipated adding entry-level accountants within the next six months, and 12 percent indicated that finding skilled applicants in accounting was their greatest challenge.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers recently published in its Job Outlook study that starting offers for accounting majors are on average up 2.2 percent to $49,022. That type of compensation makes the industry sound pretty lucrative, especially when compared to the annual starting salary of just more than $35,000 for liberal arts majors.
“I anticipate job growth in accounting not just in the United States, but globally,” DeMilia says.
“While jobs may not be as prevalent in these recessionary times, those with accounting degrees can feel relatively secure that there will be opportunities, especially as our country and others look from a broader perspective at how reform of the international financial reporting system plays out,” she adds.