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USM School of Accountancy Prepares Students for Broad Career Paths

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 01:31pm | By: Van Arnold

School of Accountancy

The age-old dictum of “supply and demand” has created abundant opportunities for those seeking a career in accounting. As baby boomers retire in growing numbers, the need for accountants nationwide continues to escalate, and The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) renowned School of Accountancy is meticulously preparing students to fill that void.

USM’s School of Accountancy offers programs designed to equip graduates for the challenges and opportunities that await them after graduation, including how to use innovative technologies to address these challenges and opportunities. The school’s programs provide a comprehensive education in accounting principles and business fundamentals.

School of Accountancy Director Dr. Blaise M. Sonnier shoots down the stereotypical notion of accountants are primarily math “nerds.”

“There is a misconception that accountants sit at their desks all day and just enter data into their computer, crunch numbers and generate reports. These tremendously understate the role of the accountant today. Being an accountant involves much, much more. Because of their well-rounded knowledge about business, accountants are most often at the center of every major business decision an organization makes. That is just one aspect of being an accountant that makes it an exciting career.”

According to a 2022 Wall Street Journal article, more than 300,000 U.S. accountants and auditors left their jobs in the previous two years, a 17 percent decline. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, projects an annual vacancy of around 136,400 accounting and auditing jobs from 2021 to 2031, exacerbating the accounting talent shortage.

USM offers an undergraduate degree (BSBA) program and a master’s degree (MPA) program in accounting. Currently, 238 students are enrolled in the BSBA program, which includes the Hattiesburg and Gulf Park campuses, as well as online enrollment. Twenty-five students are currently pursuing the Master of Professional Accountancy degree.

Sonnier points out that early in the accounting curriculum students are introduced to the many career options and paths provided by an accounting degree.

“In our Introduction to the Accounting Profession class, guest speakers from the accounting profession working in different roles and fields provide students insight into their areas of accounting – such as CPAs in public practice with CPA firms; accountants working in industry; accountants working in the government sector; accountants working with non-profits; accountants serving in management and executive positions and accountants that are entrepreneurs to name a few,” said Sonnier.

The introductory course also finds students developing their interview skills in mock interviews to prepare them for job searches. The school’s accounting student clubs, Beta Alpha Psi and Center for the Public Trust, meet frequently, featuring guest speakers who focus on preparing students for life after college.

“The student clubs also allow students to develop leadership skills and lifelong relationships with other students,” said Sonnier. “These organizations facilitate networking opportunities both with peers and potential employers.”

The MPA program is specifically designed to prepare students for success on the nationally administered CPA exam. It also prepares them for success in their professional careers and boasts a 100 percent placement rate for students seeking employment.

School of Accountancy


No one needs try to sell master’s degree candidate Justavius Tate on the merits of USM’s School of Accountancy. Tate, a Carthage, Miss., native, began his undergraduate career in pre-medicine before gravitating to business. He credits the School of Accountancy faculty for making the transition seamless and rewarding.

“The professors in USM Accounting are some of the best you will know, and they truly make it their mission to see you succeed,” said Tate, who earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting at USM in 2023. “Through their instruction in class, they provided me with the academic knowledge to go out and succeed in the field. There are endless opportunities in the field of accounting, and the faculty in the School of Accountancy seek to give students an advantage wherever they may go.”

Tate, who works as a graduate assistant in the Controller’s Office at USM, has already completed internships at TMH CPAs in Hattiesburg and Harper, Rains & Knight P.A. in Ridgeland, Miss. He has a full-time position locked up at Harper, Rains & Knight upon completion of graduate school. Additionally, he has taken two sections of the four-part CPA exam.

Maintaining pace with industry trends remains a cornerstone of the school’s mission. Sonnier notes that given the increased importance of data analytics in accounting, courses have been added to increase the emphasis on data analytics in the curriculum to provide students with a strong foundation in this critical area. This includes an accounting course dedicated to the topic of accounting analytics.

“In addition, assignments are integrated in other accounting classes that require students to locate and analyze data to draw conclusions and make recommendations. To build on their writing skills, they are required to present their findings in a memo,” said Sonnier.

USM’s School of Accountancy is separately accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). A mere one percent of accounting programs worldwide has earned the honor of separate AACSB International accounting accreditation.

The School of Accountancy consists of 10 full-time faculty members on the Hattiesburg campus and three at the Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, Miss. The faculty features a broad range of expertise, including scholars with years of experience in auditing, taxation, and consulting. In addition to their academic credentials, most of the faculty have real-world accounting and business experience. The majority are also licensed CPAs.

An accounting degree can lead to various career paths in the fields of finance, business, and beyond. Some common career opportunities include:

  • Public accountant
  • Corporate accountant
  • Government accountant
  • Forensic accountant
  • Tax accountant
  • Internal auditor
  • Financial planner or advisor
  • Financial controller
  • Chief Financial Officer
USM School of Accountancy

USM alumus Bradley Floore serves as senior manager at HORNE where he specializes in serving clients in the financial institutions and banking industry. He has extensive experience performing and managing external audits for both SEC and privately-held institutions.

A native of Gautier, Miss., Floore graduated from USM in 2016 with a double major in finance and accounting. He was awarded the 2016 Fred T. Neely Gold Medal which goes to the candidate who achieves the highest scores on the CPA exam of those who completed all four parts during the calendar year in the State of Mississippi.

Floore credits the University and the School of Accountancy for laying a strong foundation that helped him become a leader in the accounting sector after graduation.

“Many of the professors regularly shared their real-world experiences in accounting and these stories made the accounting lessons much more practical,” he said. “Also, the Meet the Firms event hosted each year affords students an incredible opportunity to network and gain valuable internship experience. It specifically enabled me to earn an internship at HORNE that over seven years later I’m just as grateful as ever to be a part of.”

Floore added, “Financially, the School of Accountancy is a blessing as well because of the several scholarships available to deserving students who were generously supported by donors and alumni.”

Sonnier points out that a concerted effort has been made to raise awareness about the potential careers in accounting and to boost enrollment in the school. Last summer, the school hosted a session for career coaches who work in area high schools, providing them with information about the field of accounting.

“We have been working with the professional community to reach out to high school and community college students to educate them about the many career paths available in accounting,” said Sonnier. “The shortage of accountants, and the opportunities presented by that shortage, is an issue that our high schools, accounting and business professionals, and universities should be working on together.”

A silver lining shines in the ongoing shortage of national accountants. Widespread opportunities abound for students attracted to the distinguished profession, and the USM School of Accountancy can provide a rock-solid pathway to those career goals.

“There has never been a time where being an accountant was not a good career option, and now the opportunities in the accounting profession are truly remarkable,” said Sonnier.

To learn more about the USM School of Accountancy, call 601.266.4641.