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So, you want to teach accounting?

Get on the track to educate future CPAs

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By: Steve Matzke
User Icon Director of Faculty & University Initiatives, AICPA
Career Options

There are two things that all CPAs have in common: 1. They hold one of the most respected credentials available and 2. At some point, they all have been taught by an accounting professor. On your journey to CPA, you may entertain the idea of following in their footsteps and becoming a professor. As you start investigating this opportunity, you will probably have questions like -- What does it mean to be an accounting professor? How does a person become one? Should I pursue a PhD or a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)? Do I need a PhD to teach? The answers to these questions will be different for each person and will often be dependent upon the expected outcome. However, here are a few tips about what you need to know to figure out what path is right for you.

Investigate your options

Consider reaching out to former professors or others in the academic community to assess your options. You may want to start by determining the end goal: Do you want to teach full time? Do you want to be an adjunct? Do you want to perform research that will affect the future of the profession? Do you want to be a tenured professor? The answers to these questions will determine your next move.

Know the difference between teaching and researching

In general, you do not need a PhD to “teach” accounting. Other options do exist for those who only want to teach. Some of the options available include teaching at community colleges or being an adjunct faculty member at a college or university. Many of these positions are part-time and assigned on an “as needed” basis. This is a good option for accounting professionals who want to bring their experience to the classroom while continuing their accounting career outside of academia. To find out if these teaching opportunities are available, look at a university’s careers website or reach out directly to the academic department at the university you would like to teach at.

Many local universities and community colleges have positions for full-time faculty that do not require the research component. In general, without a PhD, your opportunities may be limited in placement options and the salary will often be less.

In contrast, if you get your PhD, and you choose to pursue a career as a research professor, you will likely have more opportunities and, all things being equal, your salary will likely be significantly higher. You will still teach, but likely not as many courses because you will be engaged in research that has the potential to impact the accounting profession as a whole.

Select your degree

You will have to decide whether or not to pursue your PhD or DBA. The primary difference between a PhD and a DBA is the research component of PhD programs. While a DBA and professional experience may be sufficient to teach accounting, the larger research universities prefer their professors to have a PhD. The research produced by faculty members helps to shape the future of the accounting profession and the publication of research in top academic accounting journals is a primary goal of many PhDs. The type of research, research interests, and doctoral program culture vary from program-to-program so you need to do your homework before deciding on which programs to apply to. It’s also important to keep in mind that most universities prefer to hire professors with PhDs from AACSB accredited, non-profit universities.

The cost to get a PhD or a DBA varies from program-to-program. Financing these advanced degrees is significantly different than undergraduate and master’s degrees so make sure you look into this before selecting your top schools. Many universities will remit tuition for doctoral students and they may offer graduate assistantships and stipends to help defer costs.

Close the deal

So, you are SOLD….you are going to be a professor and you know how you’re going to do it. GREAT! Now execute your plan. If you want to strictly teach, call the colleges and universities where you would like to teach. A conversation with the Chair of the Accounting Department may work in your favor. If you are interested in pursuing a DBA or a PhD, many resources, such as the American Accounting Association , the AICPA , and the universities’ websites will provide you with very useful information. Remember, the desire to teach and research is definitely not a “one size fits most” endeavor. Share your journey! Chat with your peers about your future as PhD and get advice from those that are considering the same path.

While the road to becoming an accounting professor is filled with challenges, equipped with the right knowledge and preparation, it may just be the best journey imaginable. So go get ‘em, tiger!


Steve Matzke is the Director of Faculty & University Initiatives at the American Institute of CPAs. If you have questions, please feel free to email him at smatzke@aicpa.org.
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