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5 Questions for Jean Wyer, Principal, PricewaterhouseCoopers

November 8, 2006
Related Topics: Recruitment, Staffing Management
Jean Wyer

Jean Wyer received her doctorate in accounting 30 years ago, at a time when attaining such a high level of education was far more common in the field than it is today. The number of Ph.D.s in accounting has dropped by 50 percent, creating what she calls a "train wreck" in the making. As principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where she has worked since 1988, Wyer spearheads the company’s efforts to promote continuing education. She recently spoke to Workforce Management staff writer Gina Ruiz.

Workforce Management: Should we be concerned about a shortage of Ph.D.s in accounting?

Jean Wyer: Accountants are a critical factor in maintaining our trust in the capital markets. If we don’t have enough Ph.D.s, that means we won’t have enough faculty in our schools, which will ultimately intensify the shortage of people coming into our profession. A scarcity in accountants could put at risk the trust that we have in our capital markets.

WM: How significant is the drop in accounting Ph.D.s?

Wyer: Over the last 10 to 15 years, the annual supply of accounting Ph.D.s has fallen by half. It has dropped from around 200 to 100 Ph.D. graduates per year. The value proposition for going into a doctoral program isn’t what it used to be. The time to get a Ph.D. has almost doubled to about six years, and the probability of getting tenure at the institution where you land your first job has dropped.

WM: Is a Ph.D. necessary to teach accounting?

Wyer: The determinacy for faculty status is made by the AACSB International, the primary accrediting agency for collegiate business schools. Under the agency’s guidelines, schools are allowed to hire two categories of faculty: academically qualified, which have Ph.D.s, and professionally qualified professionals. However, there is a certain faculty ratio that the schools have to comply with to maintain accreditation. They can’t have completely 100 percent professionally qualified faculty members. We are concerned that the imbalance between supply and demand of Ph.D.s is going to lead to a reduction in accounting programs—maybe even do away with these programs at some academic institutions.

WM: What can be done to fix the problem?

Wyer: We are starting a program to have some of our people work as professionally qualified faculty while they work for us. Now, that is not an easy thing, but it is necessary, especially in the very tight sub-specialties like auditing and tax. We are also going to start a program that will fund Ph.D. programs for qualified workers who are interested in making a career change into academics.

WM: What is the outlook for the accounting field?

Wyer: Right now, we are on the edge of a danger zone. Enrollment in Ph.D. accounting is down. In terms of accounting graduates, we are about 20 percent below our high of 10 to 12 years ago. This situation is painful, but we could survive at least for a while. What really worries me is that a large cohort of Ph.D.s that graduated in the 1960s and 1970s will be reaching retirement age. When 20 to 40 percent of this group begins to bow out and there aren’t enough replacements, we’re really going to be in big trouble.

Workforce Management, November 6, 2006, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!

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