The Master of Science in Accounting Analytics (MSAA) online graduate program prepares students for a changing field shaped by new technology. Program director and long-time faculty member, Katherine Lopez, explains how St. Edward’s gives graduates an edge in the evolving accounting and business market.
What is the digital transformation of accounting, and when did it start?
With advancements in computer processing power, accounting professionals can use analytics technology to process huge amounts of information that, in the past, we would have had to review by hand. This allows us to see much more quickly where there are potential anomalies that we should examine.
Analytics are a very useful new tool, but this tool still requires professionals to ask the right questions and make ethical decisions. Critical thinking skills are perhaps even more important than they used to be.
This transformation has been underway for the past decade and has accelerated within the past two to five years. Because the accounting industry is shifting to focus more on analytics, professionals will need these skills immediately when they enter the workforce.
We work one-on-one with students to help them tailor their elective choices to their professional goals.
How can master’s-level students prepare for this industry shift?
Part of it is learning the new tools, and at St. Edward’s our students get a lot of hands-on experience with analytics programs including Power BI, Tableau and R.
At the same time, we are not trying to train students on any one system. Our program gives students broad training with a number of systems, so that our graduates are able to adapt to the inevitable changes in technology.
What’s more, the digital transformation means that professionals will have to be able to think at a slightly higher level than they used to. In the past, accountants would spend more time gathering information and getting to know the data that way. Now that analytics can provide information very quickly, professionals need to be able to jump in and analyze it to make decisions.
Writing skills are also very important in accounting. Our professionals need to communicate effectively and justify and explain what they’ve done in documentation that can be used years later, in the courts if necessary. The MSAA program includes two writing-intensive courses to build those skills.
Why is ethics education critical to accounting?
Accounting is a profession that is based on trust, and ethics is the core of how we maintain trust with the public.
It's not enough to teach students what is and is not ethical behavior. They first have to be able to recognize when they are dealing with an ethical issue. This is how a lot of people make mistakes: they didn’t even realize they were confronting an ethical problem. We teach our students how to identify these issues, and then we teach them a framework for analyzing a situation and making a decision.
When you’re dealing with an ethical challenge, you need the courage and the negotiation skills to speak up to your team or your boss. We teach students how to negotiate those conversations, so they stay employed while being ethical. We also talk about how to know when it's time to walk away, if the issue is not going to be handled appropriately.
The Holy Cross mission of St. Edward’s states that we don’t just educate the mind, we also educate the heart – which, for accounting, is extremely important. We require one major ethics course, but ethics is infused throughout the curriculum. That gives our students a real advantage.
What makes the Master of Science in Accounting Analytics from St. Edward’s valuable?
The education of the mind and heart; the small class size and the community; the ability to network with colleagues and professors; the team-building skillset; and the ability to customize elective credits and build skills by drawing on the MBA and MSBA programs.
What else is distinctive about the St. Edward’s learning environment?
Our very small class sizes encourage networking with fellow students and communication with professors. It’s an online program, but we do a lot of breakout groups and collaborative projects that create a feeling of community.
All of our graduate programs in business have a close, collaborative relationship. For their elective credits, students have access to courses in our MBA program and our Master of Science in Business Analytics. We work one-on-one with students to help them tailor their elective choices to their professional goals. If they want to build soft skills, they can learn communication and negotiation skills through MBA courses. If they want to focus even more on analytics, they can learn programming through our Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA).
Taking courses in the MBA or MSBA broadens students’ perspectives and introduces them to additional contacts and mentors to build their network. It could even inspire them to pursue a professional path they hadn’t considered before.
Critical thinking skills are perhaps even more important than they used to be.
What kind of 4+1 or accelerated degree options does St. Edward’s offer?
We offer an integrated BBA/MSAA program for St. Edward’s undergraduates who want to earn both degrees in 5 years. We also offer an option for students who have a business degree and want to switch into accounting. In this pathway, students can take 7-week asynchronous versions of the four prerequisite courses: Intermediate Accounting I and II, Federal Taxation of Individuals, and Auditing. Students complete all the prerequisites in one semester while earning four upper-level accounting course credits that count toward the CPA exam. Then they can go straight into the master’s program.
How do students build connections in the Austin community?
Our faculty are, or have been, practitioners with experience in the area they teach. Some have worked in tax; some are practicing lawyers; one was a partner at a Big Four firm. Because we are a small program, students are able to build strong connections with their professors. We also get calls from professionals in the community who want to mentor students. They have a desire to give back to the profession, but they also want to connect with potential future hires.
What do MSAA students do after graduation?
Our students are recruited by the Big Four as well as by medium- and small-sized public accounting firms. They also go into industry, working in an in-house accounting department at a company.