December 2, 2022
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Tri-county accounting graduates in demand


Universities aren’t always great at adapting to the workforce needs of today and tomorrow.

Journalism schools across the land, for example, still churn out thousands of graduates every year —  bright-eyed, but unable to find jobs, and soon forced to move back in with mom and start freelancing.

But at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the Orfalea College of Business is responding nimbly to a shifting job market. Demand for accountants graduating from the school is strong and getting stronger, so the college is expanding its accounting program by 50 percent, from 130 graduates last school year to a target of 200 in 2017.

To get there, the school plans to add to its faculty of 11 tenure-track accounting professors, though no decisions have been made on precisely how many new hires there might be, said Orfalea College spokeswoman Robyn Kontra.

“We’re noticing a really significant need in the industry to have more of our really highly qualified accounting graduates join public accounting firms and smaller accounting firms,” she said. “It’s a direct reflection of the need in the industry. It’s our hope that we can not only attract more business students in our own college to choose this path, but to recruit more students from outside the business school.”

The demand is both local and nationwide, she said, and comes from Big Four accounting firms, local firms, and non-financial companies looking for accountants and analysts. Graduates tend to stay in state, with most of them going to big accounting firms in Los Angeles or the Bay Area.

“Recruiters come to our campus three times a year and they honestly can’t hire enough Cal Poly accounting graduates,” Kontra said.

David Merlo, a principal at the San Luis Obispo-based CPA firm Glenn Burdette, said his firm relies on Cal Poly for both interns and new hires, and would welcome more accounting graduates from the school.

“We draw primarily from Cal Poly, and we’re very pleased with the Cal Poly graduates that we get,” he said. “Here on the Central Coast, we’re not really going to get people from all over the country. You’ve got to find that person who loves the Central Coast and really wants to be here, versus the person who says, I really want to spread my wings and go to San Francisco or somewhere.”

It’s not just public accounting that’s hot right now. Companies in all industries need their own accountants and auditors once they’ve reached a certain size and, in fields like technology and finance, those jobs are highly sought-after.

Accounting jobs tend to grow when the economy as a whole does and last year the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a 13.1 percent growth rate in accounting jobs by 2022, in line with overall job growth.

A survey released in June by Robert Half found that executives are having trouble recruiting and retaining accountants and other finance professionals and are raising wages for those jobs. The median annual wage for accountants in 2014 was around $66,000 but a striver at one of the big firms, or in the finance department of a non-accounting company, can earn six figures fairly quickly.

The economics department at UC Santa Barbara isn’t expanding its accounting emphasis the way Cal Poly’s business school is but it’s also seeing higher demand for its graduates.

UCSB graduates between 350 and 400 accounting majors every year, more than half of the total graduating from the economics department, said Peter Rupert, the department’s chairman.

“Our accounting program, to be honest, we could have more,” he said. “The major is very competitive.”

There’s been “a bit of a boom” lately in demand for UCSB accounting graduates, Rupert said. Some of that comes from the generally healthy job market, and some of it comes from the willingness of employers to look harder at graduates of good public universities like UCSB — and Cal Poly, for that matter.

“If you talk to some of the big finance firms, like Goldman and Citi, they are looking first at Yale, Harvard, Chicago, like they always have,” Rupert said. “The pecking order is what it is. But they would love to hire more UCSB kids.”

Changes at the top

The 2016-17 academic year is shaping up as a year of major transition for a few tri-county institutions of higher education. The presidents of CSU Channel Islands, Santa Barbara City College and Antioch University have all announced that they plan to retire when the 2015-16 year ends, and all three schools are on the hunt for new leaders.

CSUCI has already started its search in a public way, with a forum last month to talk about how it plans to replace Richard Rush.

Lori Gaskin, the SBCC president since 2012, announced her retirement in October and at Antioch, Nancy Leffert announced her retirement in September. All three schools will spend the early part of 2016 looking for new presidents.

The Business Times, in this column and elsewhere, will be following all three job searches.

• Contact Tony Biasotti at