Research Spotlight: Stemming the faculty shortage with flexible doctoral programs

Three researchers survey viewpoints about programs that allow practitioners to earn degrees while keeping their jobs.

September 8, 2015

The accounting profession still suffers from a serious faculty shortage. As the average age of tenured accounting professors is 58, the faculty drought is likely to worsen in the near future.

Are flexible doctoral programs for practitioners one answer to the shortage? Douglas Boyle, CPA, DBA, and Brian Carpenter, Ph.D., both of the University of Scranton, and Dana Hermanson, Ph.D., of Kennesaw State University, believe so.

“There’s an enormous pool of practitioners, some of whom want to go into academia,” said Boyle, a graduate of Kennesaw State’s flexible doctoral program.

But many of these practitioners can’t afford to leave their jobs for the years it takes to earn an advanced degree. As Carpenter pointed out, “It’s just not viable to leave the workplace and go for a doctorate full time. In most cases people have families. They can’t forgo the income level they’re used to.” 

That’s why the professors find flexible doctoral programs so promising, and why they performed a survey of more than 800 accounting faculty and administrators to gauge perceptions of the quality of such programs.

We spoke to Boyle, Carpenter, and Hermanson about their findings, published in the article “The Accounting Faculty Shortage: Causes and Contemporary Solutions” in Accounting Horizons earlier this year.

Extra Credit: Can you tell us more about flexible doctoral programs and how they work?

HERMANSON: The one at Kennesaw State lasts about three years. In the first two years you have nine or 10 on-campus residences a year, lasting three to four days each. In the third year, you complete and defend a dissertation. It’s research-focused, dissertation-focused. Students have published in some very strong journals.

In your survey, you asked respondents to rate how important they thought it was to attract practitioners to flexible programs on a scale of 1 to 100 (with 100 = high value). The average score was 69.77. When you asked them to rate their level of support for flexible doctoral programs on a scale of 1 to 100 (with 100 = high support), the average rating was 56.18. How do you interpret these results?

CARPENTER: I was encouraged. These programs are so new that I was glad to see there was some receptiveness to a different model. There’s a recognition that the four- to five-year model doesn’t work for everyone. The time was right for people to become more open.

Why do you think some faculty are resistant to flexible programs?

HERMANSON: One factor is tradition. Some people think, “I dropped everything for four years to get my doctorate, and that’s what it takes to be successful.” The other thing to note is that people are naturally skeptical of a new model.

CARPENTER: Many people assume these programs are online-only or that they’re going to be watered down. When people learn about them, they find they really are rigorous. They’re not online. Students are on campus every month. The classroom time is extensive. The more they learn about these programs, the more comfortable they get.

In your study, you asked respondents how serious the faculty shortage was at their institutions. The mean rating was a 53 on a scale of 1 to 100 (with 100 = critical problem)—suggesting that respondents only saw it as a moderate problem. Were you surprised by these results?

BOYLE: When you drill down into our data, you find that certain institutions feel the shortage more than others. Smaller institutions are competing with larger ones that can offer more compensation. It made sense.

HERMANSON: Another consideration is that a number of schools have responded to the shortage by bringing in more nontraditional faculty—adjuncts and lecturers. The problem is not so severe that they’re not getting their classes covered.

Something else to consider is that, at the time we did the survey, we were coming out of the financial crisis. A lot of people who planned to retire at that time decided to hold off. It pushed the crisis off for a few years. But look at the average age of faculty. It’s an older group. There will be a lot of retirements soon.

What would be your recommendations to help lessen the faculty shortage?

BOYLE: Another paper we worked on showed that interest in teaching is high among practitioners, but that they don’t understand what the job is like. We need to work on educating practitioners on how great a career in academia is—what the life looks like, what the requirements are.

HERMANSON: I introduce master’s-level students to what a doctoral career in academia is like. There are a lot of stereotypes out there. They don’t realize professors can do other things than teach classes. Have the students read research papers. It will get them interested. I tell students I have the best job in America; there’s great freedom and flexibility. I can work at midnight or 2 a.m. I can go to my kids’ events.

CARPENTER: I’d advocate a greater use of professional faculty who are not doctorally qualified. Accreditation standards allow for a greater number of them than people realize.

What are some things you’re doing at your school to attract new faculty members?

BOYLE: At Scranton we proactively identify potential professors and help them make the transition to academia. For example, one process that our department has recently implemented is to review a list of our accounting alumni who had been out in the field four to five years and identify those who we feel may make strong academics. We reach out to these alumni to see if they are interested in teaching and, if so, provide our support and insight. If we hadn’t been proactive like that we wouldn’t have gotten our last few hires.

In addition, we formed a council comprised of our most distinguished accounting alumni. This council meets on a quarterly basis to provide support on our various initiatives, including identifying potential future faculty members.

CARPENTER: Frequently, students at the undergrad level say they would ultimately like to teach. We seek out people who did the best in their classes and expressed an interest in teaching. The person we hope to hire soon was the top student in her academic year.

Interested in learning more about pathways to academia? Visit the Pathways Commission’s website or view a video webcast on transitioning from practitioner to faculty member.

Administrators: Read about the American Accounting Association’s best practices for integrating professionally oriented faculty.

Do you know of great research that deserves to be in the spotlight? Tell us about it at

Courtney L. Vien is an associate editor at the AICPA.

To read more
Extra Credit articles, click here.