Program Name: Master of Science in Accountancy
School: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Business
Length of Program: 18-36 months
Cost: Tuition $27,200 ($850 per credit hour); total cost less than $30,000 (estimated)
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Accountancy is among the best in the country, and probably the world — on that, most people agree. It has been ranked No. 1 by both the BYU Accounting Faculty Research Rankings and UT-Dallas Top Business Schools based on Research Contributions Rankings, and is generally regarded to be among the top three accountancy programs in the U.S., from which some 800 undergraduate and post-graduate students earn degrees every year.
Now, at a time when job growth in the accounting field is strong but the regulatory landscape in the U.S. is transforming — and when massive amounts of data are being produced and requiring informed analysis — Illinois is launching an all-online accountancy master’s to stay in the forefront and meet the demand for accounting professionals with the ability to leverage new technologies. The iMSA will be launched this fall at Coursera, taught by some of the best accountancy faculty in the world and open to students of all academic backgrounds — Illinois’ answer to the trend of more democratic access to higher education.
It’s not the business school’s first such answer. The new iMSA comes on the heels of Illinois’ launch of an iMBA in early 2016, as well as an online Master of Computer Science in Data Science. Both programs are growing rapidly, with students enrolled from all over the world, UIUC College of Business Dean Jeff Brown tells Poets&Quants.
“We’re pretty much regarded as one of the best accounting programs anywhere in the world, and have been for many, many decades,” Brown says. “And so we’re taking that reputation and prestige and we’re wrapping it around a really successful business model that we launched with the iMBA early last year. We think we’re going to be able to bring a super-high-quality — I might almost say an unparalleled quality — of accounting education and make it available to people without regard to geography. And that’s exciting.”
Why did Illinois launch the program? “The accounting profession is continuing to have huge demand for its services, and it is a growing area,” Brown says. “Not only is it growing, but the skills that are being demanded by the accounting profession are evolving with increased emphasis on data science and analytics and so forth. So if you spend any time at all talking to the senior leadership of the Big Four, as well as the next set of public accounting firms — as well as, frankly, the corporate accounting sector — there’s a lot of anxiety and concern out there about the talent pipeline. And frankly we hope to be a solution, or at least a partial solution, for that.
“Our goal is to take what is unquestionably a super-high-quality accounting education at Illinois, which is world-renowned, and make it accessible to a wider group of individuals. We want to continue to produce the same quality and caliber of students that we do now, but be able to do that all over the country and all over the world.”
How is it different from what else is on the market? “It’s a new, innovative approach,” Brown says. “We’re bringing together the prestige of our accountancy department with a business model that we’re really happy about. So it’s really the intersection of those two. … We’ll hold up the high standards like we do with the in-person programs and the iMBA, but what’s exciting about this is, we’ve really removed geographic barriers and also scheduling barriers. People can be working and raising families or whatever and be able to access our courses at times that are convenient to them. That’s what’s big and new here.”
Who is the ideal applicant and student? “They’ll look a lot like the people that study accounting with us now, except that they won’t be as constrained by geography,” Brown says. “We graduate approximately 400 undergrads and another 400 master’s students every year in accountancy, and we have a national and international presence. But if you take folks that may already be working or for whom it’s not feasible to pack up and move or move with a family or leave a job to come and study at the University of Illinois — but who are still very high-quality students and are interested in a high-quality accountancy education — this is gonna make it possible for them.
“We’re looking for highly talented students with an interest in a career in the accountancy profession.”
Adds W. Brooke Elliott, EY distinguished professor and accountancy head designate in the College of Business at Illinois: “We’re looking to bring more talent into the field by improving accessibility to top-notch quality education and star faculty. We’re lowering barriers to entry for talented people to become leaders in the accounting profession.”
Elliott added in a news release that the most sought-after candidate of companies hiring MSA graduates possesses three key attributes: a solid understanding of accounting fundamentals, a competency in data analytics, and the ability to communicate what the numbers mean. “We’re developing people who deliver that trifecta of competencies,” she said.