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Tax Research: Educating the Educators

The Department of Accounting at the Tippie College of Business continues to fill a unique role by offering the only doctoral program in accounting in the state of Iowa. Having a highly ranked, internationally recognized Ph.D. program gives the Department of Accounting a front row seat to an inimitable staffing crisis certain to impact the future of accounting education.

As reported in last year’s Iowa Ledger, growing concern continues regarding the national decline in the number of accounting doctorates reported in the last 10 years. The average age of current accounting professors is near 55, indicating a shortage in the number of qualified accounting professors in the next couple of decade.

The American Institute for Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) recognized the intensity of this shortage and created the Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program (ADS), the largest initiative in the United States history to address the shortage of accounting faculty in auditing and taxation. The ADS is supported by the nation’s largest CPA firms and 48 state CPA societies and other organizations, nearly $17 million has been committed to 120 Ph.D. candidates.

As a result, of the 13 doctoral students current enrolled at Iowa, five students are funded through the ADS program. In addition, this year three overseas visiting doctoral students attended the program this fall semester.

Chelsea Rae Austin went to the University of Central Florida for her undergraduate and Master of Science in Taxation and was working as a tax senior associate at PwC in Orlando before coming to the University of Iowa for a doctoral degree. The majority of her work was comprised of preparing and consulting for corporation and partnership tax returns.

“I decided to come here because the University of Iowa is known for its reputable Ph.D. program and is especially strong in the tax specialty, and that area interests me the most,” she says.

Chelsea Rae is in her fourth year of the program, and her goal is to complete the program in the spring of 2014.  Her research combines past research in psychology with more traditional tax research. Companies, like Apple, Inc. have received attention in the news for its strategies to lower corporate taxes. In a current working paper with Professor Ryan Wilson, Chelsea investigates if firms with valuable brands will engage in less tax avoidance to minimize negative attention from popular press that may be triggered by low effective tax rates.

Although the doctoral program is rigorous, Chelsea is surprised most by the camaraderie among her fellow Ph.D. students. She says everyone is willing to help one another, whether with answers to theoretical questions, technical questions, or to lend an ear when the feeling of being overwhelmed strikes.

The camaraderie of the ADS students led to start of the Iowa Tax Readings Group. The group includes faculty and Ph.D. students interested in tax research. Tax researchers from around the country send research they are working on to the group for comments and suggestions.  The group meets about twice a month, providing comments on cutting-edge research.

After establishing a career at PwC and becoming a licensed CPA, Bradford Hepfer (BBA06, M.Ac.07) returned to the University of Iowa, also as an ADS recipient.

Selecting the University of Iowa accounting doctoral program was not a difficult choice for him. He says he was lured back because of three key reasons: 1) Iowa has world-class accounting faculty; 2) The faculty produce high-quality research jointly with current and former students; 3) He was certain that he could thrive in the environment at the Tippie College.

Bradford also recognizes that the University of Iowa tax program is an uncommon occurrence.

He explains, “Our tax faculty have a broad view of the accounting research landscape, which enables students to develop ideas that address big questions in the literature that appeal to tax and non-tax researchers alike. What’s more, Iowa’s world-class faculty help us to gain a greater appreciation for the important, unanswered questions in accounting research.”

Bradford is in his third year in the Ph.D. program.  His research looks at the impact of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).  He considers tax a ripe setting to explore the impact of changing accounting standards. 

The strength of the doctoral program continues to thrive at the University of Iowa because of the legacy of quality doctoral candidates enrolled in the program. Professor Dan Collins, director of the Ph.D. program at Iowa, knows first-hand the value of an Iowa degree.  Dan completed his Ph.D. in Iowa in 1973. 

Dan says, “The ADS students graduating from Iowa join a distinguished group of Ph.D. alumni and will be instrumental in educating the next general of accountants and accounting faculty.”

This article first appeared in the fall 2012 issue of the Iowa Ledger, an alumni publication for accounting graduates from the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa.

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