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Grad school planned for majority of MC's accounting majors

Barry McNamara
Monmouth College accounting majors headed to graduate school include, from left, Robert Murray, Sean Gould, Ky Claeys, Melissa Mekus, Joseph Hnojsky, Nick Flemming, Dennis Barr, Kimberly Litchfield, Bradley Winkler and Michael Howard.
Accountants dig numbers, and there’s one that is especially popular on the Monmouth College campus these days – 58.8.

That’s the percentage of 2012 accounting graduates who are headed to graduate school, as 10 of the 17 seniors will be continuing their studies. It’s also the highest percentage that longtime accounting professors Frank Gersich and Judy Peterson can remember at Monmouth.

“This whole class has been quite exceptional – they really have a passion for learning,” said Peterson. “Whether or not they are going to grad school, they all have an interesting plan after graduation.”

The majority of the students are headed to one of two schools – Northern Illinois University or the University of Illinois-Springfield.

Attending NIU will be Dennis Barr of Fulton, Ky Claeys of Burlington, Iowa, Nick Flemming of Sherman and Bradley Winkler of LaGrange Park. Springfield-bound are Sean Gould of Anna, Michael Howard of Auburn, Kim Litchfield of Nauvoo and Bobby Murray of Brimfield. Melissa Mekus of East Moline will attend Western Illinois University. Joe Hnojsky of Brookfield is the other senior headed to grad school.

“In today’s poorer economic times, getting a master’s degree – whether it’s an MBA or one of the master’s of science in accounting or taxation – can be a wise decision,” said Peterson. “Although the accounting discipline, by and large, is one of the stronger career paths in this uncertain economy, it still helps to have this additional credential.”

Master’s degrees do not have to be expensive if the student plans right, she added. If a student has excelled in undergraduate studies and has been selected for a role that requires the exercise of professional judgment and responsibility or has other relevant work experience, a fellowship may be available. A fellowship may come with a tuition waiver and/or stipend for continuing with teaching and research while the student is performing graduate studies.

One of the students receiving such a fellowship was Howard, who will intern for the auditor general in Springfield while completing his master’s. While interviewing for that position, Howard said he discovered just how well he was prepared at Monmouth when compared to other candidates he met.

“I’m positive that all the things I was exposed to in Monmouth’s accounting curriculum helped me get my assistantship,” said Howard, who has also secured a summer internship at Deere and Company.

In particular, Howard had a leadership role in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and was exposed to a variety of team-based learning experiences, such as debates and discussions. The accounting curriculum has a strong writing component, and Howard reported that was a major difference from what his peers at other colleges experienced.

That integrated learning environment obviously suited Howard well, as he is graduating with honors in all three of his majors – accounting, business administration and mathematics.

“That’s a win-win situation,” said Peterson of students receiving graduate school assistance. “Nevertheless, even without a fellowship, investing in a graduate education is a wise decision. Students tend to earn approximately $3,000 more annually in their first job, have more opportunities for advancement because of the master’s degree and move faster through the ranks in their career.”

Students who aspire to be a COO, CEO or CFO most certainly would need a master’s degree, Peterson explained. Master’s programs further a student’s education in developing the higher-level thinking skills at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy, where the student is dealing with unstructured and complex situations.

“They are given very little guidance, and they must use their arsenal of educational tools to explain, discuss, advise, hypothesize, evaluate data, direct and solve,” she said. “That’s why those students are highly valued at the executive levels in accounting firms, business entities and non-profit organizations.”

Although students are not required to have a master’s degree to sit for the CPA exam, they do need 150 semester hours, and attending graduate school is one way to get that extra classroom time. Depending upon the student’s academic background, master’s programs take approximately one academic year plus one summer to complete.

“If students are interested in working for large companies and CPA firms, those entities will often conduct campus recruiting activities specifically targeting graduate students,” said Peterson.

Peterson also noted that students often discover later on the advantage of a master’s degree and return to school. That means the 58.8 percent figure could grow even higher for MC’s accounting graduates of 2012.

Monmouth College accounting majors headed to graduate school include, from left, Robert Murray, Sean Gould, Ky Claeys, Melissa Mekus, Joseph Hnojsky, Nick Flemming, Dennis Barr, Kimberly Litchfield, Bradley Winkler and Michael Howard.