Small class sizes = big results for Salve accounting students

Lecturers Jamie Carlone and Bonnie Kennedy have a story that illustrates their approach to teaching accounting courses at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.

Recently, one of their students applied for an opening at a Big Four accounting firm in New York City.  As a part of the interview process, she was required to work with a group of other candidates from top universities and colleges, who were also interviewing for positions in New York.  The prospective hires were given a business simulation project to work on and several problems to solve. While other candidates were focused only on the bottom line, Salve’s student considered all aspects of the decision at hand and its impact on others.

“She received a job offer from the firm,” said Carlone.  “She said it was then that she realized how special her education from Salve was and how grateful she was to have learned more than just the necessary business tools.”

Carlone is the former Program Coordinator for accounting and finance majors in the Department of Business Studies & Economics at Salve Regina and Kennedy presently holds the title.  Both women point out that while the university holds true to the core necessities of an accounting education, the school’s business students are discovering that the liberal arts program has them uniquely prepared to enter the 21st century’s workforce.

Salve Regina’s Department of Business Studies & Economics is accredited by the IACBE and has offered a major in accounting since 1948.  The program is growing, with 73 students currently enrolled and three full-time accounting faculty members, all of whom are CPAs.  The curriculum maintains an emphasis on core skill sets that are important in the profession.

“Our students develop excellent research and technology skills as they work their way through the curriculum,” said Kennedy.  “Accounting majors work extensively with the FASB Codification and have the opportunity to become certified QuickBooks users and earn Microsoft Office certifications in our on-site training center.”

The program encourages small class sizes to allow professors to offer individualized attention and incorporate comprehensive case work, presentations, research papers, and debates. These types of assignments transcend the traditional classroom. It is rewarding to see students thrive in this type of environment.

In addition to the academics, other factors that keep the program so vibrant and engaging to students, are the various opportunities offered to them outside the classroom.  Internships, community service projects, field trips, networking events, and workshops are experiences that help students apply their knowledge while gaining valuable insight.  “Involvement in these activities also helps students see the relevance of what they are learning which is very useful and motivating to them,” said Carlone. “Our annual trip to the NYSE is always an exciting experience for our students."

Both Carlone and Kennedy see the Salve Regina approach as answering the changing demands of today’s accountant.  Decades ago, a newly hired accountant would likely see a prominence of computation, the inputting of numbers and other tasks now mastered by the computer.  Today’s accountant needs to be a thinker.

“Graduates in the field are expected to be analytical and perform high-level thinking right away,” said Kennedy.  “At small accounting firms, they are dealing with CFOs, making Board of Director presentations, and so much more – very early in their careers. They’re jumping right into it.’

Carlone said the university’s curriculum has been shaped with that in mind.

“Students use critical and analytical thinking to solve problems and make rational decisions,” she said.  “Consideration of risk factors and ethical implications involved in reporting and using financial and non-financial information responsibly is an integral part of their education.  A goal of the program is to encourage students to be outstanding, competent and responsible accounting professionals.”

There is tangible evidence to support Salve Regina’s thinking behind such an approach.  Consider a study conducted by the American Institution of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in 2010, called “Horizons 2025,” a follow up to the AICPA’s “CPA Vision Project.”  A wide range of accounting professionals were asked to predict the skill sets they thought would be important for an accountant’s success in 15 years.

According to the AICPA, “CPA Horizons 2025” asked participants to reflect on these traditional services and consider the addition of new services in light of shifts in business, society and technology occurring now and through 2025.  The core services and skills that accountants identified as most critical included: communication skills; leadership skills; critical-thinking and problem-solving skills; anticipating and serving evolving needs; synthesizing intelligence to insight; and integration and collaboration.

“I was not surprised,” said Kennedy.

Salve Regina’s mission reads in part: “Through liberal arts and professional programs, students develop their abilities for thinking clearly and creatively, enhance their capacity for sound judgment and prepare for the challenge of learning throughout their lives.”

“Students who have the aptitude for accounting quickly realize it is a great field to pursue because of all the potential opportunities they could have,” said Carlone.

According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, “the employment of accountants and auditors is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022.”

Salve Regina University is in growth mode of its own. The school has come a long way since 1934, when the state of Rhode Island granted a charter to the Sisters of Mercy of Providence for a corporation named Salve Regina College.

In 1947, following more than a dozen years of careful preparation, a turn-of-the-century Newport mansion was gifted to the college corporation. The acquisition of Ochre Court, a 50-room French chateau, enabled Salve Regina to welcome its first class of 58 students that fall. Salve Regina became coeducational in 1973 and achieved university status in 1991, at which time the school’s charter was amended to change the name of the corporation to Salve Regina University.

Today, the university boasts of more than 2,000 undergrads and 600 graduate students, coming from 35 states and 21 nations. In an effort to expand its reach and make itself more accessible to adult learners throughout Rhode Island, the university has opened a Center for Adult Education in Warwick, a 12,000-square-foot facility at 144 Metro Center Blvd.