Business now offers fully online accounting degrees

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Lary Cowart says UAB business programs are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, and UAB’s is one of only 173 of the group's separately accredited accounting programs in the world.
A recent alum of UAB’s School of Business graduated with a job in hand, but not with his education complete — at least not in his mind. He told Lary Cowart, Ph.D., interim chair of Accounting & Finance, that he wanted more.

“He wanted to become a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) to go along with his MBA, but the travel required for his job didn’t enable him to take traditional classroom courses,” Cowart says. “Like many of the students interested in this program, his ultimate objective is to meet the educational requirements for CPA or CMA (Certified Management Accountant).”

To meet the needs of these students, UAB began offering its first fully online Bachelor of Science in Accounting program this summer. It is the first online degree offered by the School of Business. The Master of Accounting degree will be offered online beginning this fall. Both degree programs are accepting applications now.

“Our online programs are a positive step in providing flexible access to highly valued, rigorous accounting education,” says David Klock, Ph.D., dean of the UAB School of Business. “To meet this strong market need, we are excited to have recruited new teacher-scholars to our faculty, and we will be able to provide access for the global community.”

Faculty trained online to prepare new programs

elizabethThe School of Business prepared for these new programs by hiring an instructional design manager and staff to work exclusively with business faculty to design and deliver online courses —to ensure that the quality of the programs would not be compromised.

Elizabeth Fisher, Ph.D., is the instructional design manager for the UAB School of Business. Fisher and her team collaborate with the business faculty for online course development and delivery.

“There’s a lot of planning and work that goes into this to ensure the academic integrity for students and for those who will hire our graduates,” Fisher says.

Two semesters before the course is to be taught, faculty begin an eight-week, online training course in which they apply the concepts to be taught. “These faculty are online students for this training, so they share the first-hand experience of an online student,” says Lary Cowart, Ph.D., interim chair of Accounting & Finance. “This process puts the professor in the role of the student; now they can understand the perspective and challenges of online learning.”

In the semester before delivery, the faculty work with the instructional design team to develop the entire course before going live. Faculty teach the course in the third semester.

“After the first semester of delivery, the faculty and the instructional design team collaborate to develop a continual improvement plan,” Fisher says. “In that, we look at student responses on course evaluations, faculty notes and the level of interactivity to target areas for improvement and preserve what’s working in the course. There is a lot of quality control.”

All of online course development is based on Quality Matters standards. Quality Matters (QM), a national organization promoting best practices and quality standards for online instruction, has a stringent certification process for online courses. UAB’s School of Business is the first in Alabama to earn recognition from QM — a nice feat so early in the implementation of online instruction.

Fisher says the faculty deserve credit for many of the early successes. She says faculty have been open and embraced these online guidelines.

“Our faculty have business backgrounds and recognize that students are savvy consumers who can easily go elsewhere if they can’t find options that will serve them here,” Fisher says. “I expect these programs will be successful for two primary reasons: one, they supply student demand for access, and two, the courses are extremely high quality.”

Two years of investigating, planning and designing the online programs were needed before implementation, says Karen Kennedy, Ph.D., associate dean of the School of Business.

“From the beginning we were highly committed to ensuring that students who enroll in our online programs get the experiences we provide in our traditional program,” Kennedy says. “Our online degrees have the same standards and rigor of our traditional program. These programs offer streamlined curricula and provide a high-quality, practice-oriented educational experience for those looking to acquire the knowledge and practical skills needed to succeed in acquiring professional certifications and building a career as an accounting professional.”

“There are other online accounting programs out there, but only a handful is accredited at the highest levels,” Cowart says. All UAB business programs are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), and UAB’s is one of only 173 of the group's separately accredited accounting programs in the world.

“We’ve invested in the design and development of a top-quality program with our faculty and have created a competitive advantage — expert faculty, well-designed courses, highest levels of accounting accreditation and strong student services,” Cowart says.

In fact, the school’s online programs provide the same level of student services as traditional programs. “The students going through the online program, some of whom may never come to campus until graduation, will still have access to career services, career counseling and student advising,” Kennedy says. “We’re committed to providing all of the services for traditional students to our online students.”

Filling a major need

In 2010, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that accounting jobs would grow by as much as 16 percent by 2020. School of Business faculty and leadership decided an online degree program would help meet the demands of the growing profession and offer a quality opportunity to students and alumni. The 2010 median pay for an accountant was almost $62,000.

 “If we didn’t do this, somebody else was going to do it,” says James L. Worrell, Ph.D., accounting professor. “Accounting is a wonderful career path for traditional-age students and also the professional who can’t just pick up and move back to some place and go to school. We’re filling a major need.”

The undergraduate program, which made its debut in May, comprises two parts. One is an online degree. Students enrolled in this part of the program primarily are transfer students and students who started a degree track and didn’t complete it. Some students may take some general education classes with their business classes, obtain an undergraduate degree in accounting and then move into the Master of Accounting.

The second aspect is the so-called bridge program for students who have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than accounting and who want to enhance or change careers. It gives students foundational accounting knowledge without them having to earn another bachelor’s degree and prepares them for admission to the master’s program.

Students from eight states are enrolled in the program. Slightly more than 60 percent of are from Alabama; students from South Carolina, California and Minnesota also are enrolled. 

“It’s a nice blend, and it’s extending reach and providing much broader access than we can provide with our traditional program,” Kennedy says. “The interest in these programs has been tremendous, especially among our alums. They know the quality of UAB programs. If they can’t come to class because of life and travel issues, that makes this a good fit for them.”

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