A Value-Added Degree
When Derek Matzke (BBA ’01, MAcc ‘02) represents BDO at intern recruiting events for Wisconsin School of Business accounting students, he knows he just can’t sit at a table and wait for them to come to him.
“These are 100, 125 students who are the best of the best,” says Matzke, a partner at the public accounting firm’s Madison office. “It’s competitive among the firms to get them. You have to seek them out and distinguish your firm because there are a lot of good students everyone wants.”
WSB students rise to the top because of a unique program that sets them apart from other business schools—the Integrated Master of Accountancy (IMAcc). As part of the overall Master of Accountancy Program (MAcc), the IMAcc is a five-year program that offers what’s known as a 4+1 degree that combines a bachelor’s and a master’s.
“It really sets up the students well for their careers,” says Terry Warfield, PwC Professor in Accounting and Richard J. Johnson Chair of the Department of Accounting and Information Systems. “Our graduates advance quicker and are a little more successful once they start their careers. To us, that’s validation that our fifth year adds something.”
The goal of the program is to prepare students for their professional lives and the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam. One of its hallmarks is an internship during the spring semester of the fourth year—the busiest time of the year for the public accounting firms—ensuring students a solid head start to their career.
“Students are thrown into the fire to really experience in eight to 12 weeks what you might experience in four to six months in the slower season,” says Kristen Fuhremann (BBA ’99, MAcc ’00), director of the Wisconsin MAcc Program. “They get this really good internship experience while they are still an undergrad.”
The MAcc program also has another path to a master’s: the Graduate Master of Accountancy (GMAcc), which is a two-year program that targets students who did not earn an undergraduate degree in accounting. It provides more fundamental accounting education in its first year, then a second year that mirrors the graduate year in the IMAcc program.
100% placement rate
WSB’s distinctive approach works. The School consistently ranks in the top five in the U.S. for the CPA exam pass rates, and has a 100% placement rate within three months of graduation.
The School created the MAcc program in reaction to a change in educational requirements for CPA certification, an increase from 120 hours to 150 in 1999. Faculty and staff saw the change as an opportunity to do more than add accounting classes. Instead, they could enhance the skills students need to become good business professionals—writing, speaking, teamwork, ethics, global mindset, and broad business knowledge.
“Some programs looked at it as something they needed to get their students to 150 hours,” Warfield says. “That wasn’t our only goal. We wanted those hours to be a true value-add.”
That was the appeal for Megan Allen (BBA ’18, MAcc ’19) to enter the program.
“They work on developing the full person and not just learning accounting,” says Allen, whose spring internship was at BDO in Madison. “I’d heard positive things from students ahead of me as to how the program doesn’t just want you to churn out numbers, it wants you to know how to carry yourself professionally.”
Learning by teaching
The accounting department created partnerships with firms that needed interns. It also created a teaching assistant (TA) program for fifth-year students to teach introductory accounting classes. Fifty-one of the 140 MAcc students were TAs in 2017-18.
“The internship and the TA position were the absolute best parts of the program for me,” says Kim Fleissner (BBA ’01, MAcc ’02), CFO and COO of Shopbop, an Amazon subsidiary. “The classes are obviously a foundation but as an intern you learn so much that you bring back for a fifth year, and in a TA position you have to be able to speak to an audience and become the subject matter expert. That prepares you so well for the work world.”
A benefit of the internship, Fleissner said, was being able to take a risk since it was temporary. She interned at PwC in New York and got a sense of if she would like living there (she did, and returned to the firm after graduating). She also was uncertain of what she wanted to do in business, but knew accounting would help steer her toward her goals.
Most MAcc graduates start their careers in public accounting, developing a strong foundation in accounting and business. Alumni work as CFOs, controllers, partners, C-Suite executives, and more in a variety of industries.
“The accounting degree is one degree and 360 degrees of opportunity,” Warfield says. “It provides a great foundation and a great springboard.”
Whatever career path graduates choose, they have the best preparation for it. When students return from their internship, they take a three-week professional issues class that serves as a bridge connecting what they learned in their internship and preparing to be graduate students.
“When we see them before they leave for their internship and fast-forward to the end of the three-week class, it’s almost like they’re different people,” Fuhremann says. “They come back as mature, business professionals who are ready for graduate school.”
From Grainger Hall to the Olympic stage
The MAcc program at the Wisconsin School of Business has another path its students have taken beyond the accounting world—as Olympians.
Gwen Jorgensen (BBA ’08, MAcc ’09) won a gold medal in the triathlon at Rio in 2016. She had run track while at UW–Madison, and had begun her accounting career with EY in Milwaukee when she was recruited to try triathlon. She is now training as a marathoner.
In Pyeongchang, South Korea in Feburary, hockey player Ann-Renée Desbiens (BBA ’17, MAcc ’19) helped lead Canada to the silver medal after her team lost to the U.S. in a match filled with former Badgers on both teams. Desbiens earned her bachelor’s degree last spring and will return for her master’s year through the IMAcc program next fall.