MISSOULA – Every time she sees new graduates struggling to pass the certified public accountant exam, Sara Campbell is reminded of a distinct advantage she had early in her career. Even before she entered the workforce, the 2012 graduate of the University of Montana Master of Accountancy Program took – and passed – the exam that challenges so many fledgling accountants.

Elise Risho, a UM business college graduate and co-owner of Silk Road Catering, speaks to Josh Herbold’s Accounting Data Analytics class. (UM Photo)
Elise Risho, a UM business college graduate and co-owner of Silk Road Catering, speaks to Josh Herbold’s Accounting Data Analytics class. (UM Photo)

“Perhaps the most invaluable part of the MAcct program is the in-depth and advanced coursework which thoroughly prepared me for taking the CPA exam,” said Campbell, a manager at Larson Gross CPAs and Consultants in Bellingham, Washington. “Having the exam completed before starting a new job with a steep learning curve set me ahead of my peers.”

Recent national rankings corroborate Campbell’s high regard for UM’s program. Public Accounting Report’s 36th Annual Professors Survey ranked the program 16th in the country for master’s programs with less than 17 full-time accounting faculty members. UM placed 19th when compared to programs of all sizes in the West, one of four regions the survey ranked.

Many universities have master of accountancy programs to help students meet the five-year education requirement for CPA licensure. UM’s program is the only master of accountancy in Montana separately accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Both listings put the UM master’s program in good company. Surrounding it are schools like Cornell University, Rice University, the University of Colorado and the University of Oregon. Nearly 1,000 accounting professors from 200 U.S. colleges and universities participated in the survey, which ranks programs based on student and faculty activity.

Terri Herron, director of UM’s program and a professor of accounting, said the accounting program’s CPA exam pass rate surely helped it earn the strong ranking. UM’s accounting program has the No. 1 CPA exam first-time pass rate in Montana and among medium-sized schools in the Pacific Northwest. Having passed the exam allows students to set themselves apart from members of their cohort, who often start exam preparation classes once joining a firm.

“This reputation carries forward with our alums throughout their careers,” Herron said. “Our students come out very technically ready.”

Not surprisingly, recruiting for MAcct graduates is competitive. About 50 firms actively recruit potential accounting hires from UM’s College of Business each year. The program’s 10-year average for alumni who have jobs within three months of graduation is 94.7 percent, with about half of all grads working out of state.

“Employers love our students,” Herron said. “They’re willing to work hard. They’re not entitled. When it comes down to it, employers like to come here because they’re successful in hiring.”

Faculty excellence underpins the program’s strong reputation, she said. UM accounting professors represent the program in a variety of ways throughout the accounting profession at the state, national and global levels.

For example, Kent Swift, UM professor of accounting and Paul and Betty Haack Distinguished Faculty Fellow, was appointed to the Global Sustainability Standards Board in 2017. He’s the only academic on the 15-member board of international corporate members.

Herron is highly involved in the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and routinely teaches a course for the organization.

And Josh Herbold, chair of UM’s Department of Accounting and Finance and associate professor of accounting, is president of the Montana Society of CPAs. He is the first educator to hold the presidency of the professional group — Montana’s largest accounting association — since 2000.

“Our good reputation has staying power,” said Christopher Shook, Sprunk and Burnham Endowed Dean of the College of Business. “It isn’t new, and it’s built on years of faculty dedication and relentless dedication to student success and to the broader profession of accounting.”


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